a rambler's nightmare

a personal rant By Ted Green 

25 May 2007

Ted Green takes a look at our treatment of the countryside, beginning with the free-ranging pigs at Knepp and taking in conservation grazing, vets, medicines, our food agencies, ecologists: no-one get’s off lightly!


There has presumably, down through the ages, always been conflict between footpath and bridleway users over their condition. In the beginning it was probably between walkers, drovers, horse riders and horse drawn carriages and carts. 

Today we can add farm machinery, trail motorcycles, mountain bikes and all terrain four wheel drive vehicles. 

However we can now add a very useful addition to the ever growing list and it’s Pigs! On the Knepp Castle estate in West Sussex the owner Charlie Burrell has entered 3600 acres of the estate into his own giant ‘re-wilding’ experiment, part funded in Countryside Stewardship. So far this has included fencing the boundaries and introducing Longhorn cattle, Exmoor ponies and Tamworth pigs whilst Roe and Fallow deer were already present. All the animals are free-ranging and during the few years this exciting project has been running it appears to have thrown up as many questions as answers.

For example, the two families of Tamworths on their daily roaming excursions regularly spend time, to the annoyance of all walkers, enthusiastically ploughing up an ancient public footpath that crosses a very large field. The field went into Countryside Stewardship in 2004 after several years in cereals, rape and rye. It was then sown with a recommended grass mixture which had wildflower seed of several species added by the owner. 

At present the pigs are only working to a very shallow depth and literally just turning over the turf and exploring the grass roots in a similar fashion to humans cutting and lifting turf. By watching the pigs digging it appears that they will sniff first and then turn over the turf and are eating earth worms and presumably large grubs and other unearthed pig delights.

Having already acquired a reputation as a ‘way out speculator’ by many of the (so called) ecologists in our midst it’s exciting to be able to speculate on the significance of the pigs digging being confined solely to the ancient footpath.

Does the pigs work mean that the worms, which we could call the ‘flagship species’ for all the soil inhabiting micro-organisms, have to yet to move even a few centimetres into the arable reversion and if so why? 

As a general principle we have to include other soil inhabiting micro-organisms because it might be naïve to only use large visible earthworms in isolation from the rest of the ecosystems of the little known world of the soil.

Perhaps in some ways a contradiction to the last paragraph but large visible earthworms could in fact be an indication of a soil ecosystem that is operating. Also can they help us to begin to consider the ‘world of the soil’ and it is not derogatory to state that the vast majority of us find the ‘world of the soil’ as bewildering and incomprehensible as the galaxies in the universe.

Therefore if the worms have not moved into any of the arable reversion does it mean that the complex ecosystem and fungi, bacteria,  invertebrates and all the other organisms have not moved either? This begs the question why? On the face of it the grasses and wildflowers appear to be growing. But do they have their essential mycorryhzal fungal associations? Are they merely hanging on without what are considered essential mycorryhzal fungal relationships?* Without their fundamental relationships are the plants just soaking up the inorganic nitrogen applied over the years and unable to collect other minerals, nutrients and above all trace elements normally supplied by the fungi and bacteria.

Scientists in our Food Agency proclaim that non-organic food is just as nutritious as Organic. This is an absolutely ridiculous statement and fundamentally flawed because the fundamental relationship between fungi, bacteria and other micro-organisms and plants in the uptake of nutrients and trace elements is ignored or literally not understood by them. One could assume that they have come to the conclusion that the addition of pesticides, antibiotics and other veterinary product residues, as administered to plants and also secreted by animals, are useful additions and compliment any natural lacking elements.

One could go on to conclude that from the Food Agency pronouncements that such products as Arsenic, Cyanide and all the other nasty pesticides dreamed up by man are nutritious and also of course kill all known diseases in man!

We should not forget the veterinary profession either for their obvious motivation in the health of animals and some cases the subsequent profit but not the health of the overall environment. To date how many veterinary products are tested against the environment? Antibiotics secreted by animals kill fungi and bacteria in the soil and water. The effects of wormers are well known above ground but what about the world of the soil? Are they persistent? How do they degrade? When I see a sign saying ‘Horse Manure 50p a bag’ I want to change it to ‘Toxic Waste’ for today horse pooh seldom breaks down, why?

We have a buzz word now which is ‘biodegradable’ and all pooh in the past obviously was, and often disappeared very fast. It’s not unreasonable to say that at least 50% of pests and diseases in grazing animals are transmitted in the pooh. So it must follow that non-biodegradable pooh (dung) means fat vets! Dare we even contemplate a link between persistent pooh, TB and badgers?

As mentioned before we know so very little about what our animals rely on and that must include ourselves – the soil – without it we perish.

If we start to consider the soil and say to ourselves ‘If I do this or with the animals what might happen to the soil ecosystem’? Then we are beginning our education. 

Don’t forget next time you have to use a vet ask them if the veterinary product been tested against the environment.

Ted Green Fungi First

* It can generally be assumed that mycorryzhal fungi recede and are usually lost to plants when inorganic and other chemicals are applied.

If only pigs could speak!