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Good Evans: The intriguing case of the Clun water mussell


This month Roger Evans follows the fascinating life cycle of the water mussel, looks for a solution to the milk crisis, and finally wonders how it is his kitchen table has become a horizontal wardrobe.

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I’ve always thought money drives change in farming. It drives that change better than anything else. If you want change to happen, if there’s money thrown at it, it will happen. I live in the catchment area of the Clun Valley.


Fortunately, or unfortunately depending on your point of view, there are fresh water mussels to be found in the river Clun. Seemingly, these have to be preserved at all costs.


If they disappear there’s a major EEC fine on the horizon. Their preservation has become more important than anything else. More important than housing, more important than farming. All efforts are directed towards keeping the water in the rivers and streams clean.


The fact that there wouldn’t be any mussels there anyway if the water wasn’t clean already seems to be of no consequence. This is a renowned stock rearing area and yet there are reckoned to be 1000 fewer suckler cows in the Clun Valley than there were 10 years ago.


This statistic is ignored as well, yet cattle are seen as a major factor in the efforts to keep the water clean. They don’t want cattle drinking in rivers and streams. The fresh water mussel has as precarious a life as a dairy farmer. Part of its life cycle involves attaching itself to the gills of a trout. Cormorants, otters, mink, herons, fishermen all eat trout, but that apparently is ok.


There are small grants available to do stuff, but livestock farmers are expected to find the rest. Now it’s not a good time for livestock farmers to find extra money, and if they want it done they should find all the money themselves! The great and the good, and plenty of others who don’t make it into that category but think that they do, have had plenty to say about the issue of low milk prices.


I’ve yet to see a solution, probably because there isn’t one apart from the obvious one of an increased world demand. The most ridiculous one was from a Government Minister who said we should establish more brands for British dairy products. A classic example of having nothing to say but saying something anyway.


If there is a lesson to be learned from what has happened in grocery retail over the last couple of years, it is the increased market share of the discounters. It’s put huge pressure on the profits of the other major supermarkets. The upshot of that is that the majors have reduced milk prices in an attempt to maintain the foot fall in their stores.


We see how the discounters’ strategy works every night on our televisions. We get someone with two products in front of them and they say “I like this, and I like this”. One product is usually a branded product and one is own label. The own label product is always a fair bit cheaper but the message is quite clear and that is there is no difference between the two, so why would you buy the dearer branded one?


There is usually a humorous twist to the advert and people like that, people generally like being amused. My favourite advert of this type is a lady sitting behind two packs of tea bags. One is a well-known brand and the other is a cheaper own label. She says; I don’t like these, and I don’t like these, I like gin; And the job is done, very effectively, the audience has been shown the comparison between two important products and has been amused at the same time.


The important side effect of this strategy has got to be a very real erosion of the value of brands. The only way the retailers which are under pressure are going to compete with that is to go along the same sort of route. Only when they have similar prices can the comparisons stop.


Ultimately it is devaluing food and I can’t spot any good news in that. Quite what politicians thought we could do to reverse this trend is beyond me, and I feel just as clearly beyond them. We’ve had two teenage boys (our grandsons) squatting here most of the summer.


There’s clothes everywhere, they wear more clothes in a week than I wear in 12 months. Our kitchen resembles a charity shop that needs tidying up, and our kitchen table has become more of a horizontal wardrobe. As a result of this clothes can get mixed up and I occasionally get these garish, brightly coloured boxers finding their way into my laundry pile. And I wear them.


But I don’t wear them like they do. All on show with the belt of the trousers just above their knees. I keep them well covered up. That’s a blessing, I’ll bet you are thinking!


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