Wednesday, 5 September 2007

The Devil's Rope

This week's Time magazine has a report about the banning of barbed wire in several Colorado townships. Environmentalists are pressing for bans because, while barbed wire is cheap and effective at keeping cattle in (or out, in the case of my garden), it is sometimes lethal to wild animals like elk and antelope.

My sister reminded me the other day that my grandfather refused to have barbed wire anywhere on his land, believing it to be cruel. I imagine he was thinking primarily of his stock, but perhaps also of deer, owls and other wildlife. Certainly the handful of gentle milkers which supplied us with milk, cream and butter, required no barbed wire to keep them in. Perhaps, too, the image of Flanders was fresh in his mind.

Uniwire, which describes itself as Britain's premier barbed wire manufacturer and supplier, boasts that it has sold enough barbed wire to go five times round the world. Today the thousands of miles of subsidised fencing which stretch across even the remotest hills and glens of the Highlands are invariably topped with barbed wire, even though the 3' stock-fencing below is more than capable of containing sheep and cattle, and a top strand of plain bull wire would be cheaper and as effective.

The few parts of Britain's farmed landscape which are still free of barbed wire either have stone walls, or were hunting country before the Act. I guess colonising tendrils of the Devil's Rope may already be creeping across the latter, even as the spinneys and coverts that once provided refuge for wildlife slip under the plough.

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