Wednesday, 5 November 2008


Fishing quotas have not endeared DEFRA to British fishermen.  (Words on the van, photographed on the Norfolk Coast, read:  'DEFRA SUCK's but they ain't FISHERMAN'S FRIENDS.  (Non Brits might want to know that 'Fisherman's Friends' are a brand of cough candy.  This has nothing to do with physical expressions of affection.)

First, hurrah for Obamaramarama, my out and out hero and glam noo leader (elect) of the free world! Huzzah and Gadzooks for a great geezer.  A happy piece of news to wake up to today.

But apart from that, I'm fuming!  I was guest at a lovely dinner at the Tower of London, on Monday night dining among glittering uniforms and highly distinguished bods, but after this posting, I will probably end up going back the The Tower, this time being dragged in backwards, through the Traitor's Gate.  

Now then.  Pay attention while I rant, please.  

A piece of news yesterday, coupled with more recent tales of woe among beekeepers (sorry, its the bloody bees again) had me leaping out of bed at 5.45 am and committing acts of extreme violence against the curtains, the tea kettle and anything else I could knock about or rip up.  

Rage is an ugly thing, but not half as ugly as the hideously bloated government ministry that calls itself DEFRA.  If ever there was a dog's breakfast of a department, DEFRA is it.  Those on the other side of the puddle, in the newly Blessed and Sunlit Upland of  Obamadom, may wish to know that the acronym stands for the Department of the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs.

This Orwellesque megaministry is responsible for pretty much anything that happens outdoors or at sea.  It was a brainchild of the 1997 Blair government, the result of cobbling together most of the ministries that New Labour didn't give much of a damn about:  agriculture, fisheries, the environment, English Nature - -  you know -  the sort of un-hip, non Brit-pop muddy things that didn't float the spin doctors' boats at all.  It progressed quite quickly, from dog's breakfast to pavement pizza and by now has pretty well pissed off all farmers, fisherman, naturalists, environmentalists and a lot more folk besides.

One of DEFRA's most outstanding achievements was to be so late in making subsidy payments to farmers - more than a year overdue - that the EC imposed a massive fine.  We tax payers foot the bill for that, of course, as well as funding the subsidies for the aforementioned sons of the soil.  DEFRA also closed down a number of key research stations including one near here, where crucial research work was being carried out on the effects of climate change on our flora and fauna.

But DEFRA's latest offering takes the biscuit - literally, if you're a dog.  They've produced a document telling us pet owners how to look after our animals.  This government department is telling us  - IS TELLING US!!! - that we've got to watch for signs of stress when introducing cats to dogs.  And that we should provide separate loo facilities for each individual cat in our household.  Also, we've got to provide suitable toys and entertainment for our cats.  WHAT DID IT COST TAX PAYERS TO PRODUCE THIS TWADDLE?

I acknowledge that animal welfare is important, and that some pet owners need guidance.  But we have charities like the RSPCA who do superb work in that area and the amount of information on pet care, in all medias, is vast. 

Meanwhile, this morning on BBC Radio 4's Farming Today I heard that British Bee Keepers would be demonstrating in London because British honey supplies have been so diminished that national stocks will run out by Christmas.  Our entire bee industry wants £8 million to be set aside for research into Varroa, Colony Collapse Disorder and other problems.  

But DEFRA says that, 'in these difficult economic times,' it can't afford to provide that sum even though the industry is in crisis.  Eight measly million!  That's barely even a couple of Banker's salaries!  

We may not produce vast quantities of honey, in Britain, but it is still an important part of our agriculture.  Our honeys are distinctive in flavour, cost little to produce and enrich the choice of quality foods at the top end of the market.  They always sell at a substantial premium, so one assumes they must be extremely popular.

It's so sad to learn that the ministry which wants to spend money telling us stuff like this:  

'You should ensure that your cat has enough mental stimulation from you and from its environment to avoid boredom and frustration . . . It is your responsibility to provide opportunities for your cat to satisfy all of its behavioural needs, such as play and companionship. ..'   
                            is not interested, at the same time,  in helping out a small but precious sector of our food production industry, not to mention, the most important of all plant pollinators, the poor, dying bees!   HARRRUMMMPHHHH!!!!

Ooooh some people do go on!  Sorry!  Sorry!!  Flowers and pretties next time, I promise!


  1. It is obviously the day of the grumbly rant, I'm afraid: you do do it very beautifully though, Nigel. Very interestingly I had a client ring up just yesterday to say that this same DEFRA had rung him up to see if he needed a grant for anything as they had some spare cash that needed spending. New rather gorgeous stone ha-ha anyone?
    It is obviously the day of the grumbly rant, I'm afraid: you do do it very beautifully though, Nigel. Very interestingly I had a client ring up just yesterday to say that this same DEFRA had rung him up to see if he needed a grant for anything as they had some spare cash that needed spending. New rather gorgeous stone ha-ha anyone?

    Your word verification is truggl which I feel is suitably horticultural.

  2. Don't stop, I love the rants! And I quite agree about Defra. Quite a lot of the idiocies that people blame on the EU are perpetrated by Defra, or before that, Maff.

  3. I nearly joined MAFF - it was my civil service department of choice when I passed the management entrance interviews, but they carted me off to The Department for National Savings in Durham instead. There I spent many an hour writing inventive letters explaining how the Retail Price Index was calculated until it was deemed I should really be even more of a square peg pushed into a round hole, and join the computer department. The office didn't have a computer at the time. And I narrowly escaped the clutches of the MOD, GCHQ and the Dept. of the Environment when we moved to the south west in 1984. Phew.

    As for cat toys, every owner knows they ignore any toys bought especially for them. Instead they will happily play for hours with any leaves, twigs, bags, boxes, socks and underpants left lying around.

    My husband was given a jar of honey yesterday. I've suggested we hoard it until after Christmas, when we will probably be able to buy an entire bank with it, if not two at a stretch.

  4. James - thank you so much for your response. It was particularly thoughtful of you to deliver it in living stereo!

    Up the RHS!
    Up the RHS!

  5. It even made Have I Got News For You last night.

    Much hilarity and laughter all round. The bit that says if you have a cat and live in a flat with a balcony, you should take steps to ensure the cat can't fall off it, is worth every penny of taxpayers' money don't you think?

  6. I couldnt beleive what I saw on the news the other morning when they reported on this new iniative - how completely ridiculous. I suspected I would have ranted as well if I had had time. Maybe us gardeners should be doing something to support the bee keepers - its amazing what garden bloggers can do when stirred e.g. VP's £1300 for water aid and Plant What ever brings you Joy's 70 scarves for Pakistan. Maybe we need to start a petition on the government web-site to help support the bee keepers

  7. If you want to support the British Bee Keepers - see

    where you can add your name to a petition - only 300odd signed so far, I'm sure we can improve this through our blogs.