Have you got a licence for that leek?

You may have missed some of the year's best rural stories. Here we round them up, and add a red herring of our own.
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The Independent Online
Everyday tales of countryfolk do not always make it to the pages of the national press, so here is a round-up of some you may have missed. In the spirit of seasonal mendacity, we have also included one tale entirely of our own invention. See if you can shoot down the decoy in this game and win a prize. Details of how to enter the competition are given at the end of the news items.

Boycott and batter BA

Leeds University has become the first in the country to offer a BA degree course in Yorkshireness. The six-year, part-time course includes items related to whippets, cricket and Yorkshire puddings. According to the course head, Dr Tony Donajgrodzki, "It involves a lot of hard work [graft], dealing with the social, economic and cultural history of Yorkshire."

Weeds for soccer

A company on the Orkney island of Flotta is cultivating seaweed to sell to soccer teams. The test centre at Orkney Water has spent more than 20 years developing agricultural and horticultural uses for seaweed, but this is their first venture into football. The new product is an extract of brown kelp which is expected to act as a growth stimulant on pitches.

The joy of cubes

Some time before the recent dispute over genetically engineered tomatoes, Leo Wilson, a tomato-growing gypsy from Scarborough, announced his own success at improving the traditional design without the use of genetics. After years of experimentation, he has developed a tomato with a square cross-section. "I grew a square tomato," he said, "because with six sides it is easier to slice."

Uncooperative bank

The Ferret Welfare Society has been refused a bank account on the grounds that ferrets may be used to hunt rabbits. A spokesman for the Co-op bank said that they will not support any organisation involved in blood sports. An official of the society, however, said it was "a completely barmy decision" because its main activity is in raising money to pay vets' bills and support abandoned animals.

Victory for goats

A court in Taunton issued an injunction against a group of morris dancers after a farmer claimed they were upsetting his goats. When the morrismen danced each Sunday lunchtime in the carpark of a local pub, the goats showed "clear signs of distress" according to the farmer, who also produced figures showing that their milk yield was significantly lower on the days following morris dancing. "It's a ridiculous decision," a spokesman for the dancers protested. "We have as much right to be there as the goats."

Birds strike back

A bird-scaring plan in a north Yorkshire village backfired badly. Villagers rigged up a loudspeaker to play a recording of a bird in distress in the belief that it would frighten other birds away. Instead they soon found themselves besieged by a screeching black cloud of birds who had gathered to investigate the source of the noise. As the birds swooped down, councillors and tourists dived for cover. "It was straight out of Hitchcock's The Birds," said the parish clerk.

Render unto Caesar

A sheep has been knitted a sweater out of its own wool. Cecilie Telle, a fine art and tapestry student at the Royal College of Art, made the sweater, which has four leg holes and short sleeves, from freshly sheared, unbleached wool. "It's a simple matter of taking something from the sheep and then giving it back," she explained; "an interaction with nature."

Canine cleanliness

An entrepreneurial couple, Greg Booth and Joanna Hibberd of Wheatfield, Oxfordshire, have imported an idea from Australia to offer a new service to Britain's dog owners. They have bought an old British Telecom van and installed a hydrobath in it to create Britain's first mobile dog bath business. The cost of having your dog washed is pounds 7.50 a time and the company is called Dee-O-Gees. "We're sure we are on to a winner," they said.

Silly moos

Cambridge Council came up with an original solution to a problem caused by thin cattle. Its herd of Friesian cross cattle grazing on Midsummer Common, were creating difficulties by straying through the barriers that were supposed to keep them on the field. The council had tried narrowing the barriers, but ran into objections from townsfolk who were then unable to get their bicycles and prams through. The council resolved the problem by reverting to the original barriers and replacing all the cattle with fatter animals.

Like rabbits

Sussex police were spared the effort of responding to a burglar alarm, when the shop owner rang them to explain that it had been triggered by "sexually over-active rabbits".

Fish catches man

A giant eel nearly caught a fisherman in Loch Long in Scotland. Cameron Bell, a diving instructor, went hunting in the Loch with three of his students, hoping to catch a 6ft-long conger eel. The prey, however, lunged and caught him in a tangle of fishing line. Mr Bell was dragged by the eel at high speed, 60ft under water. Ten hours later, he was found lying by a road near the loch. He had escaped from the eel by cutting the line with a knife, but does not recall coming back to the surface.

Weevil dating

A pub in St Albans is claiming to be Britain's oldest inn after the discovery of two weevils in an ancient malting oven. Found during an archaeological dig, the mites have been identified as Tarratostichus stussineri, which come from the Carpathians and eastern Alps. According to a spokesman for the local museum, they must have come over with the Romans, which tentatively dates the pub back to between 60 and 250AD.

Owl alert

A woman in Long Eaton, Notts, noticed an eagle owl sitting 80ft up on an electricity pylon near her home. Seeing the bird remain motionless for some time, she became concerned for its state of health and telephoned an animal rescue group. When a rescuer arrived some time later, the bird was still there, so he climbed the pylon to see if he could help it. He descended soon after, to report that it was a dummy, put on the wire by engineers to scare off starlings.

Dangerous vegetable

A man was charged with attempted robbery after allegedly brandishing a leek at an NCP car park office in Swansea. He was reported to have entered the office and threatened staff with what appeared to be a gun. No money was handed over and a Carmarthen man with a leek in a Tesco bag was later taken into custody.

Raging bull tamed

Police marksmen were called in to Ashford market, Kent, after a half- ton bullock named Fred escaped by leaping a six-foot fence. He caused havoc, running half a mile across town, but was finally pacified not by police tranquillisers but by a more basic device brought in by the market manager: Daisy the cow. When the secret weapon was produced Fred became quite docile and was led back to safety.

If you think you have spotted the fictional item in the above, simply write its headline on a postcard and send it, with your name and address to: Rural Cowpat, The Independent Weekend, 1 Canada Square, Canary Wharf, London E14 5DL. The first correct answer out of a hat will win a bottle of champagne.

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