A little local trouble

The sheep farmers of Wales, according to this week's Country Life, are far from happy about their English counterparts intruding into the Principality. It's not their braying accents and city ways. It's not even their coarse Anglo-Saxon manners. No, what really gets them is that the English have begun to to call themselves "flockmasters" rather than shepherds. "Flockmaster?", one of Mid Glamorgan's home-grown farmers is quoted as saying. "It sounds like something out of Star Wars."

Hail to Thee, blithe Spirit!/ Bird thou never wert..." So begins Shelley's "To a Skylark". Sadly, were the poet writing in 1996 he might have continued: "Nor never more shall be." Apparently, Britain's Skylark population has gone into freefall over the past 20 years, dropping at a rate of 335 birds a day, something the RSPB this week set up a campaign to stop. The main culprits seem to be pesticides, which have destroyed the caterpillers and other bugs that skylark chicks need. Herbicides have cut down the amount of seeds from weeds that the adult birds need. Even fields that have been "set aside", as part of crop rotation schemes, tend to be sprayed before the young birds can fledge.

"If set-aside land could be left alone during May and June, the skylarks could bring off two broods a year," Chris Mead of the British Trust for Ornithology said. "But the present system has been set up to increase agriculture production rather than help the birds." He was keen to add, however, that, "it is not the fault of the farmers - they are under economic pressure." Adieu to thee...

Finally, despite all the column inches devoted to this week's Mad Human Disease revelations, one question remains: if the Government does decide to have the nation's entire cattle herd put down, what will happen to Britain's most famous bovine, Ellie May, from The Archers?

Ellie's life has not exactly been a bed of roses recently. Only the other month listeners heard how terribly lonely she had become, stuck in field on her own. But surely they can't let her go to the knacker's yard in Borchester "Let's just say," says Vanessa Whitburn, the programme's editor, "we are looking at the whole BSE situation on a daily basis."