The Barbourians are at the Gates

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The Independent Online
DAVE GOODFELLOW will have been up at 20 minutes past five this morning to start milking at his Wormhill Farm in North Staffordshire, in time to sweeten himself up before boarding a coach to today's march. After 33 years building a dairy operation, he doesn't believe he should have to be painting banners and standing on picket lines to defend his way of life.

"In any other industry I should be slowing down a bit. But I can't afford a labourer and I'm working my balls off seven days a week." It is a typical farmer's tale in the rolling pastures west of the Peak District. The 150- acre farm with 100 cows had a turnover of pounds 175,000 three years ago but is at least pounds 50,000 down today. Farm income, however, is only one reason why Goodfellow and his neighbours around the village of Rushton Spencer will be demonstrating.

Stephen Rothwell, a barrister who moved with his wife Sara to the area 15 years ago, could be on a different march. He wants Piccadilly to echo to the cry "Listen to us". He predicts civil disobedience if the government does not. "If they proceed with this (ban on hunting) I think there are at least 10,000 or 20,000 people who are prepared to go to prison fighting against it," he says. He speculates that blocking motorways with horseboxes might be a tactic in the next stage of the rural rising.

The Rothwell's cottage oozes hunting, as the red-coated scenes on antique pictures, hunting and shooting magazines, and Horse And Hound coffee mugs. Yesterday Stephen was following the North Staffordshire Hunt on foot. He and his wife regularly hunt with the fox and stag hounds on Exmoor.

"I earn my living in the towns but at least I respect the rural way of life. A lot of people move out to the countryside seeking to change it, to get it to conform to a Laura Ashley image," he says.

Rothwell is almost as passionate in his distaste for ramblers. "The right to roam sticks in my gullet," he says. Mick Heath, whose 165-acre farm is criss-crossed with rights of way, uses more moderate language about this other key grievance. "I see ramblers every day. To be honest, many are beneficial. If they discover a cow calving or a ewe in trouble they come and tell me." However he is "dubious" about public access to uncultivated land, believing it would be hard to define on some grass fields and could lead to more disturbance of wild life.

He is fairly typical of the family farmers who will be the foot soldiers of the march. He doesn't hunt with hounds but believes a ban could the thin end of a wedge that will stop him shooting foxes that kill his ducks and bantams and the ground nesting birds he is keen to conserve.

The march does not have the endorsement of every farmer in the area. Brian and Jane Clarkson, who have a 130-acre hill farm, think it has become confused with too many people jumping on the bandwagon - the gun lobby and the hunting lobby. Conversely, Rothwell argues it was the gun lobby who started the bandwagon, underlining the point with his home-made banner demanding "The Freedom to Hunt".

While they can unite around the vague notion of a threat to the rural way of life, there are really two constituencies in North Staffordshire, as in most other areas - the comfortably off hunters with jobs in the cities, and the hard-pressed small farmers. Last week the Clarksons took 11 beef cattle to market and brought nine back because the price was so derisory.

They are part of a network of farmers who have been picketing food distribution depots around Greater Manchester, hoping to persuade companies to use more British products.

While today's march will make a big visual impact, it is these chilly middle-of-the-night guerrilla operations that carry the most desperate message.

Leading article, Section 2 page 4; Duke of Westminster profile, Section 2 page 3