Mau­rice’s story: one year on

Country Life Every Week - - Contents - Edited by An­nun­ci­ata Wal­ton

ON March 4, it’ll be a full year since the BBC doc­u­men­tary Land of Hope and Glory: Bri­tish Coun­try Life aired. The three-part se­ries de­picted the beauty of the Bri­tish coun­try­side and its way of life, swing­ing be­tween manor houses, naughty dogs and Girls in Pearls. Most of all, the plight of a Som­er­set dairy farmer cap­tured the hearts of the na­tion. Mau­rice Durbin is just one man, but he has be­come a sym­bol for all that English farm­ers have had to en­dure in the wake of the TB cri­sis.

‘It can be good, but if you dare think it’s get­ting eas­ier, then bang, it’s back’

Eleven years ago, Mr Durbin owned the world’s largest Guernsey herd, with 320 cows; that num­ber was just 45 in the 1990s, when he bought his farm in the Mendip Hills, where his fa­ther had farmed be­fore him. ‘I didn’t have the money, but I moved Heaven and Earth,’ he says. ‘It was a dream come true and it kept com­ing true.’

Sadly, it all came crash­ing down. Seven years ago, an an­nual test­ing showed that 26 of Mr Durbin’s Guernseys had failed and, since then, the herd has been in per­pet­ual limbo, never in the clear.

Agree­ing with the gen­eral sci­en­tific con­sen­sus, Mr Durbin has no doubt that bad­gers are a ma­jor car­rier of Tb—and the lat­est re­search shows the bac­te­ria can stay around for months. The high-risk parts of the coun­try (the South and West) have the high­est badger den­sity in Europe and bovine TB now rep­re­sents the great­est an­i­mal-health threat in the UK, cost­ing the tax­payer more than £100 mil­lion ev­ery year.

‘The badger-pro­tec­tion lobby, with high-pro­file cham­pi­ons such as gui­tarist Brian May, draws at­ten­tion to the culling of bad­gers, but who’s pub­licly stand­ing up for the nearly half a mil­lion cows that have been slaugh­tered in the past 20 years?’ asks Ru­pert Uloth, who in­ter­viewed Mr Durbin for the BBC pro­gramme.

Re­gret­tably, since last year, noth­ing has changed. ‘Four or five cows still go ev­ery 60 days,’ says Mr Durbin mat­ter-of-factly. ‘Of course, we have humps and bumps. It can be good, but if you dare think it’s get­ting eas­ier, then bang, it’s back.’

Last year, badger culls were rolled out in seven new ar­eas, in­clud­ing Here­ford­shire, Corn­wall and Devon. This is part of a 25-year Gov­ern­ment plan to erad­i­cate bovine TB in Eng­land, how­ever, as yet, there has been no im­pact on Mr Durbin’s part of the coun­try, as is the case for many oth­ers.

At the NFU An­nual Con­fer­ence in Birm­ing­ham last week, De­fra Sec­re­tary An­drea Lead­som pointed out that, in 2016 alone, the dis­ease led to the slaughter of 28,000 cat­tle. ‘I know the stress and anxiety of test­ing day,’ she said. ‘No farmer should have to go through this.’

Mrs Lead­som promised fur­ther ac­tion, which will in­clude culls, im­proved test­ing and dis­ease con­trol, in­cen­tivised biose­cu­rity, greater ge­netic re­sis­tance in dairy bulls and badger vac­ci­na­tion. It all sounds fairly promis­ing, but 25 years is a long time; the farm­ers will have to keep fight­ing.

‘I feel very dis­ap­pointed as well as an­noyed by this,’ com­ments Mr Durbin. ‘De­fra has had 60 years of deal­ing with this dis­ease al­ready. Now they talk about 25 years of un­cer­tainty, with the ag­o­nis­ing test­ing ev­ery 60 days, and are no fur­ther for­ward in erad­i­cat­ing the dis­ease. My feel­ing is that they’re only pro­vid­ing them­selves with a hot din­ner each day. They need to get on with it. I could say that a lot stronger, but I won’t.’

Since the doc­u­men­tary, stacks of cor­re­spon­dence have ar­rived at the farm. ‘I got nice letters of sup­port —only sup­port—right across the board, from farm­ers to of­fice work­ers,’ says Mr Durbin.

In­ter­est­ingly, he hasn’t heard a peep from the an­i­mal-rights cam­paign­ers. ‘Af­ter the pro­gramme, I was think­ing “I’m ready for you” and was al­most dis­ap­pointed not to have a fight. Last month, I spoke to a lady in Amer­ica,’ he con­tin­ues. ‘She said she’d just watched the pro­gramme and had lots of tears and wanted to give thoughts and prayers. She hoped things would im­prove. We can but hope.’

‘We can but hope’: Som­er­set farmer Mau­rice Durbin, star of the BBC doc­u­men­tary, still suf­fers the agony of bovine TB test­ing day

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