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The GOS recently wrote about the vicious idiocy of the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Defra) - see the second half of "Motorbikes & Cows". So it came as little surprise to read Christopher Booker's notebook in the Sunday Telegraph this week, which recounts how Defra and the Environment Agency are about to go to war with each other - and in the middle of the battle-field are 350,000 hard-working farmers who are likely to suffer considerable financial losses for trying to go about their business the same way they have for decades.
Each winter, a good farmer cleans out his ditches. This involves shovelling the mud from the ditch and chucking it up the bank. Not exactly rocket-science and, since it just means shifting a non-toxic and entirely natural substance (mud) a couple of feet sideways and upwards, not a task that impacts very heavily on the environment.
or does it?
Under EU rules, a farmer must now ask the Environment Agency's permission to dispose of "waste" in this fashion. Their instructions are that this "waste" must be spread on the bank and nowhere else, otherwise the farmer will need a "waste management licence" which costs 20,000. If a farmer ignores this rule he is likely to be fined 5,000.
Defra, however, have other ideas. According to them, if "dredgings" are placed any nearer to the ditch than two metres, it's an offence under the new "cross-compliance rules", and the farmer can lose part or all of his subsidies.
When questioned Defra and the Environmental Agency glanced out of the windows of their ivory towers and insisted there's no contradiction - all the farmer has to do is place the mud on the bank as usual, but now he has to throw it more than two metres from the ditch. They offered no advice on how to throw heavy shovelfulls of wet mud at least six or seven feet, or what to do if the banks aren't that high - which most are not. I mean, that's not their problem, is it?
The Permanent Secretary of Defra, Helen Ghosh, has more important things to worry about than whingeing farmers. She's been dreaming up vital mission statements, driven by thrusting in-depth policy reviews. She says "as a result of this Strategy Refresh, Defra now has a clear sense of direction built around a new mission of 'one planet living', supported by high level goals delivered through high impact policies".
Yes, and next week she's going to learn English as well.
Defra has been getting a bit of stick recently even without this latest lunacy. Last week a Commons committee produced as damning a report on a Government department as anyone could remember. After investigating the incredible shambles made by Defra and its Rural Payments Agency over the handing out of subsidies to farmers under the EU's new Single Farm Payment scheme, the MPs suggested that the three people ultimately responsible for this "catastrophe" - including the former secretary of state, Margaret Beckett, and her former senior civil servant, Sir Brian Bender - should resign. It was Mrs Beckett who decided to opt for the unworkably complex system which has so far cost 500 million, of which 305 million must be paid by us taxpayers in fines to Brussels.
If the GOS had the bad luck to be one of the young marines currently languishing in an Iranian jail, it might come as some comfort to know that the person in charge of negotiating his fate is the Foreign Secretary, none other than the Great Caravan herself, Margaret Beckett.
Or perhaps it might be better to ask for a copy of the Koran and a prayer-mat?

Our thanks to P*** E******** for bringing this to our attention.

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