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A nation of gamekeepers and park wardens'

15 March 2005 - Western Mail

Steve Dube, Western Mail

DAI LEWIS has seen farming change enormously during 43 years of professional involvement with the Welsh rural community.

He has lived and worked through two foot-and-mouth epidemics, the ravages of quotas, BSE and other food scares and the alarming rise of bovine TB.

Now the uncertainties of Common Agricultural Policy reform are being played out as farmers wonder how much money they will get in their new Farm Support Payments later this year.

"It does not matter who you talk to, you seem to get different versions," he says.

"I'm quite flummoxed by it myself, so it's difficult to give advice. There are so many grey areas. The changes that agriculture has had to put up with is unbelievable and it's only an industry with the resolve of the farming community that could have put up with it. No other industry could have done it."

Now he reports a lull in farm sales as farmers wait to see what happens under CAP reform. He says the future will see fewer and fewer farms and fewer farmers.

Eighteen years ago, as secretary of the Royal Welsh advisory committee, he remembers many more farmers involved in such bodies.

"A lot of those smallholdings with about 20 cows are no longer there now," he says. "I don't think it's for the good of the countryside itself and it's difficult to see exactly where we're going now. I'm afraid we might become a nation of gamekeepers and park wardens."

He is amazed that the Government could approach the problem of bovine TB, which is endemic in British wildlife, by simply culling cows and protecting badgers, which farmers insist spread the disease.

"Cows are animals like badgers and some farmers are just as fond of their cows as nature lovers are of badgers," he said.

And he is astonished that the Government should ban farmers from burying fallen stock on their own land without setting up a working alternative.

"You think of how many thousands they buried on the Sennybridge ranges during foot-and-mouth," he says. "Now you can go onto a farm and see two dead calves waiting to be picked up by the new Fallen Stock Company at Cheshire and they are high. That can't be good."

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