A friend of mine sent me an article about a farm fire and asked if such experiences are common. This set me to thinking about such things. I remember a fire at a neighbour’s when I was still at school, but in the livestock areas now, with more silage than hay being made, fires are far less common. Across in the arable areas they’re both more professional with their grain storage, and keep straw outside, so there’s less fires there as well. Indeed I did wonder what proportion of farm fires are arson?
I remember reading of one farmer on the urban fringe. They had one big field next to a housing estate. Basically they went in with a combine fitted with a metal detector in the morning and followed it with the baler, aiming to clear the field by dark. Anything left in the field overnight, be it grain, straw or even machinery, was just burned by the locals. One day as they were working they discovered a child sitting surrounded by straw and boxes of matches trying to set fire to it. After long experience they just hand them over to the police, if you give them to their parents they’ve just back twenty minutes later with more matches.
A few years ago there was another article in the farming press. A chap had won a scholarship to study urban fringe vandalism and its effects on agriculture. He discovered to his shock that it was an entirely UK phenomena. On the continent they didn’t even have the concept.
Since then I’ve talked to people who’ve worked in the urban fringe. One rep from a agricultural supply company had taken a demotion to move to Cumbria and he talked of his time in his previous patch. To survive farms had virtually become fortresses. You phoned ahead to tell the farmer you were coming. The farmer would phone your boss to make sure you were a legitimate rep sent by the company. He parked his car at one farm (outside the yard, in a lay by.) The yard gate was locked but there was a narrow gate for pedestrian access. You walked through the gate and walked along the white dotted line. If you stuck to the line the chained guard dogs couldn’t get you.
As far as he could tell the problem really arises where sink estates have been built on the edge of cities and have then been used as dumping grounds by the local authorities. It’s very localised, but where it happens it’s a nightmare for anybody trying to make a living.
I was talking to somebody who worked for the environment agency on river work. He had worked in these areas. He told me about one farmer who had been working in his yard and had looked across a field to see his cattle running in panic. A group of youths in a boat on the canal were shooting at them with air rifles.
He drove his vehicle, similar to the one in the picture, down to the canal, extended the boom and dropped the entire load of thick shit onto the boat, sinking it.
Obviously there were inevitable repercussions. The environment agency turned up. As it was the farmer had managed to pull the boat out of the water without causing any real pollution, so they sympathised with him and suggested that next time he just use a big concrete block or a couple of anvils welded together, so they’d sink the boat but not cause problems to the river.