This morning my dog woke me before light. I crept downstairs on aching limbs; hauled on my coat and wellies to take him out into the freezing air for his first business of the day. There was a hard frost; sparkling over the grass in the lamplight, as if an over-enthusiastic child had sprinkled glitter everywhere making the garden a Christmas card. The world slumbered, frozen in fantasy land, and I expected silence. Instead, the rumble and roar of a mechanical monster stalking the fields beside my home assailed my ears; its two fiery eyes like searchlights scanning the icy darkness. A fountain of stinking, putrid liquid manure gushed from its rear, coating the rock-hard ground.
Nature is not in harmony with farming in the Welsh countryside. A war rages and wildlife is losing the battle. Farmers say the slurry adds valuable nitrogen to fertilise the soil and they are simply recycling animal waste. In truth, they are caught in a cycle of growing monoculture grasses, cutting for silage and spreading muck which depletes the earth of nutrients. Winters in Wales are wet. When it is cold, the ground freezes and muck cannot soak into the earth. Rain washes slurry into streams and rivers, removing oxygen and killing plants, invertebrates and fish.
Farmers are at war with the Welsh Assembly too. New regulations to prevent muck spreading in the winter were due to come into force in January 2020 but farmers protested and the Assembly conveniently buried it under the ensuing Covid crisis. I understand that farmers are in a difficult position and they need to make a living. My farmer neighbour has recently bought up several hundred acres of land surrounding my home in order to double his herd. He has weed killed and ploughed up fields that were laying almost fallow; full of wildflowers, cut once a year for hay. He has cut down trees and hedges, thick with insects and birds. He has planted grass for silage winter feed for his many cattle. Life has become harder for local wildlife. My unruly, overgrown garden is a sanctuary. From my windows, I watch the year-long rotation of cows grazing, grass growing and silage cutting, and muck spreading. I listen for the tractors racing up and down the lanes, holding my breath as they pass while I walk my dogs, fearing for my life and for my cats tentatively crossing the road. Double the herd means double the dung. He has a lot of shit to shift.
There must be a solution. Some way for farmers to work in harmony with nature. I am biased, I know. My concern for the environment and animal welfare means I have chosen a vegan lifestyle (I won’t go into the unpleasant breeding cycle I sadly have to observe living next to a large dairy farm.) If people could cut down on milk and meat consumption that would be a start, as well as Government legislation to support farmers to work in ways that help, not harm, the countryside. Some farms are managing this but we have a long way to go.
For all our sakes, nature must win this war.