Country Matters: Llamas and hydraulic rams in the sky

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The Independent Online
I CANNOT see the Country Landowner magazine ever setting Fleet Street alight: the journal of the Country Landowners' Association, which goes out free every month to 49,000 members, is full of admirably informative articles on subjects such as livestock premium quotas and foreign investment in British farmland, but its editorial sections tend to lack pzazz.

Not so its advertisements, which offer a rich assortment of rural services. To browse among the small ads is like looking through a fibre-optic lens into an anthill, and observing industrious activity in progress all round.

Even the cris de coeur in the Personal Column have a wholesome, outdoor air. In this month's issue a 'vivacious blonde lady, two dogs and one- eyed cat' are seeking a 'tall, genuine, like-minded gentleman' - and surely, in the entry right beneath, there is the very fellow: an 'English gentleman, 40, 6ft tall', with a 'large estate'.

Next door a single farmer, 'a young 43', is in search of a young lady who loves country life. 'You must be attractive, sincere and affectionate,' he says. 'Write me a letter and tell me about yourself.'

Down the column a bit we run into 'Blood lines FTCH Tibea Tosh (male) and FTCH Glencoin Drummer of Drakeshead (female)'. But no, this is not some obscure sexual code: we have jumped from lonely human hearts into a world of champion black labradors.

Invisible fences, designed to confine dogs to barracks, are possibly a bit suburban, as they cannot cope with areas bigger than 50 acres; and in any case I do not suppose they would seriously inconvenience a 'Cotswold llama'. 'Lovely temperament, easy to keep,' says the blurb seductively. Yes - but the brutes spit, bite and jump six feet from a standstill, and they cost fortunes: pounds 1,850 and upwards for a breeding female.

Many announcements, not surprisingly, are to do with trees: nurseries peddle saplings, which come cheaper if you buy them by the thousand; several firms offer whole woods for sale, and others solicit mature timber. 'English hardwoods wanted,' proclaims one. 'Yew, ash, sycamore, oak, elm and burrs of this species.' Mobile sawmills, log-splitters, peelers, shredders, stump- grinders - you can hire or buy them by the dozen.

Aquaculture also features strongly. 'Farmers of coarse and ornamental fish' offer to stock your lake, particularly with carp, or to remove surplus fish. If you are strong on water lilies and green tench, JM Kennaway of Ottery St Mary will be glad to buy spares.

Another company specialises in 'desilting and aquatic weed control'. If you want to create a new pond, nobody will do it with greater zest than my old friend Jack Hatt, still advertising under his inimitable banner, 'Dam and Blast'. This signifies that Hatt's will blow anything up (or down) at the drop of a cheque: what the announcement does not mention is that Jack recently got married again at the age of 82, and is in roaring form.

I myself have long harboured a secret desire to own a hydraulic ram, which harnesses natural power from springs, streams or rivers to hoist water to higher levels. There is something supremely reassuring about these ancient devices, which clonk away tirelessly, day and night, in lonely places. Now I am delighted to discover that I can eliminate my water costs with a Vulcan hydraulic ram, designed, supplied and installed by Green & Carter of Somerset, 'the world's oldest exclusive ram manufacturer, established 1774'.

Security seems to be much on people's minds. With rural crime on the increase, there is clearly a market for communications and surveillance systems. One firm offers night-vision equipment, portable searchlights, distress transmitters and laser gun-sights; another sells 'secure steel lock- ups', made from shipping containers and up to 40ft long, 'delivered to your premises by self-unloading lorries within 24 hours'.

A panel calling for 'Superior Sidelocks' is not - as you might be forgiven for thinking - about security at all. Rather, it refers to sporting weapons, and the firm in Durham is so confident of its readers' expertise that it sees no need to mention the word 'guns', asking only for 'sidelocks, singles and pairs'.

An announcement by Ian McGregor of Museum Services does appear to concern the protection of property. In World War Two, he says, '3.7-inch AA guns were the backbone of our nation's defence. We have a small number, available now.' But then he adds that they are designed, 'to grace your premises, in mobile or static configuration'. Anti-aircraft guns, I should say, would be pretty useful against poachers, as would the 'wide variety of tanks and artillery' which Mr McGregor also stocks. Accelerated by a few rounds from a 25-pounder, most nocturnal prowlers would surely adopt a mobile rather than a static configuration.

Under the heading 'Business Opportunities' I come across the bold statement: 'An increasing factor in rural life is the incidence of BOUNDARY DISPUTES.' Like assertions that the quality of life is declining, this is a hard one to refute; but David J Powell, a chartered land surveyor 'equipped with the latest electronic measuring equipment and a computer mapping system', is ready to pounce on any irregularities. I cannot help wondering how he would have dealt with the two Radnorshire farmers, confronting each other over a boundary fence, who were heard shouting in unison, 'Yes, Mr Bugger, just you come over 'ere and I'll show you who's master]' But maybe his computer would have had a program equal to the occasion.

Some entries positively demand a follow-up, whether or not one has any intention of making a purchase. Why, for instance, is the author and explorer Robin Hanbury- Tenison offering a 'unique opportunity to acquire pure WILD BOAR' from his farm on Bodmin Moor in Cornwall? The answer is that the herd imported four years ago from Russia, Poland, France and other sources has done so well that he is now in a position

to sell off some of his 70 breeding sows and 200 assorted offspring.

Like llamas, wild boar have certain drawbacks: the sows cost upwards of pounds 500 apiece, and although they do not jump, they dig like fury. When this lot arrived in Cornwall, their 42-acre enclosure was virgin and green. A few days later Mr Hanbury-Tenison, looking out of his window, was outraged to find that it had been churned to a sea of mud.

Nevertheless, wild boar are on the up in Britain. Their meat is delicious, and demand for it is increasing fast. Perhaps this is the time to jump in.

Such a riot of possibilities leads easily to fantastical schemes . . . I buy a 100-acre wood and have Jack Hatt blast out a couple of acres in the middle to make a lake, fed by hydraulic rams. Then I loose herds of wild boar and llamas into it, install tanks on the periphery to warn off hikers and mountain-bikers, site an anti- aircraft battery within the trees to deal with low-flying aircraft, and sit back at the controls of a surveillance system so sensitive that it will register whenever a mouse exhales . . .

Planning permission? You hardly need it for castles that exist only in the air.