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How the 'Green Men' worried our farmers
4:48pm Monday 22nd October 2012 in News
Already under fire for producing butter and grain mountains, farmers in the mid-1980s were facing a new group of critics who they called “the Green men”.
They were the conservationists and animal welfare groups worried about pesticides, fertilisers, the intensive production of meat and general overuse of the countryside.
The “Green men”, said the farmers, had penetrated the Government. Only four years before there was a majority of landowners and farmers in the Cabinet – but that had changed.
In 1987 the Cabinet was dominated by city slickers and the once powerful voice of agriculture had dwindled to a feeble bleat.
Politicians, farmers complained, had realised there were votes to be gained from going “green” and their industry had become a political football.
The animal welfare groups were demanding changes in intensive livestock production, while conservationists were concerned about high levels of nitrogen, fertilisers and pesticide being used.
Outdoor activists were demanding Government action to open up the countryside so the urban population could enjoy the great outdoors in their leisure time.
All these issues had been taken up by politicians who had joined the farmer-bashing bandwagon, sensing that most people – rightly or wrongly – thought farming had had it good for too long.
It was a situation that was worrying farmers almost more than the weather. Edna Williams and her husband John ran the 120-head Aldingbourne Park dairy farm near Chichester.
She said: “We are losing the ear of the Government. When food is in short supply they always want to listen to us and talk to us.
“When there is plenty, we tend to be forgotten. It is like the soldier who in wartime is a hero but in peacetime is hardly heard.”
On the question of the “Green men” she said: “Most farmers were conservationists long before the word was invented. We love the land. We love our countryside.
“No doubt in the future some of this land will become surplus to the needs for food production.
“Ways must be found for farmers to continue to care for it, get a living from it and provide the public with access to it.”
But in October 1986, a group of schoolchildren got closer to the countryside than most people would care to.
Handling cow dung was not an activity pupils at St Mark’s Primary School at Hadlow Down were normally encouraged to pursue.
However 16 boys and girls from the school had to roll up their sleeves and get stuck in on an outing to Wilderness Wood near Uckfield to see how a barn was built 100 years ago.
Their job was to help with the daubing – and that was where the cow dung came in. Eagerly, the children scooped up big handfuls of the smelly stuff and carefully smoothed it over the wattle hazel panels around the barn.
“Isn’t it smashing,” said their teacher Esther Scott. “Schoolchildren in towns never get to do anything like this.”
“Ugh, it smells awful,” remarked eight-year-old Sarah O’Niel as she raised a dollop to her nose. “Yes, but isn’t it fun,” enthused nine-year-old Kate Yarrow, the farmer’s daughter.
Work stopped when a farm hand emerged with tea and cakes. “For goodness sake, wash your hands,” the mucky little children were reminded.
But farming in Sussex was not always such fun. In April 1987 a farm worker spoke of the terrifying moment he was gored by a bull.
Michael Fordham was battered against a wall when the one-ton Friesian went berserk at Hunnington Farm near Uckfield.
He suffered severe injuries when one of the bull’s horns stabbed his groin.
Disaster struck when Michael was helping his father Jim and teenage student Matthew Simms to move the animal, a £1,000 bull called Wintersail Sensation.
Michael, who was recovering at Royal Sussex County Hospital, said: “He just didn’t seem to like the look of us.
“He was being a bit obstinate and suddenly decided to charge. I was standing at his side and he just brought his head around and pinned me against the wall.
“I was in agony but I just picked myself up and ran like hell. I’ve got a massive hole in my groin and I’m a bit messed about.”