VEGA News Item

Ray Barber – An Exemplary Animal Welfarist - 16/04/2007
Ray Barber has died. Ray and Sheila, his wife, who survives him, deserve special praise from campaigners in the veggy cause. They were farmers who withdrew from the dairy/meat/veal industry, because they refused further complicity in cruel processes of exploiting animals for milk and meat.
Ray Barber has died. Ray and Sheila, his wife, who survives him, deserve special praise from campaigners in the veggy cause. They were farmers who withdrew from the dairy/meat/veal industry, because they refused further complicity in cruel processes of exploiting animals for milk and meat.

They quit over 30 years ago, rescuing their livestock and turning their Court Lodge farm in Burwash, East Sussex, into a sanctuary. They also kept a few horses, ponies, and donkeys, some of whom – notably a few Shires and Percherons – had been kept as friends occasionally shown off at agricultural shows and earning a modest trophy or two. They also had a few sheep. At the beginning they were keeping about 60 animals on their 90 acres of “granny pastures”, around which there were impressive stands of trees. The farm can be viewed to the south from trains on the London-Hastings line on the London side of Etchingham station. Hunts were banned from the farm. The bestiary included various dogs and occasional stray farm animals, some lodged there by the RSPCA or police until their owners could collect them.

The Vegetarian Society’s London office was a hotbed of research, campaigning and education in the 1960s and onwards, what with the monitoring of livestock markets, launch of the Green Plan for farming, food, health, and the land, the Symposia at London’s Commonwealth Institute elaborating the Plan, and the demonstrations each year at the Royal Smithfield Show at Earls Court and at slaughterhouses in the Home Counties linked with the Show. Out of all the consequent publicity common interests emerged, one of which resulted in communication with the Barbers’ enterprise at Court Lodge farm and the struggle to sustain, let alone increase the venture. At that time – and this was well before BSE hammered the point home – campaigning veggies were trying to alert animal welfarists to the evils of the dairy/beef/veal system. The RSPCA and the Vegetarian Society’s research Section (later disbanded but regrouping as VEGA) had worked in various ways to secure a ban in 1973 on exports of live calves for rearing and slaughter for white veal in France and the Low Countries. (A minimum value order after WW2, supported by a conglomerate of many organizations, had throttled similar exports of spent horses such as vanners and pit ponies and animals from the drifts on Exmoor and New Forest).

The Court Lodge venture has survived many vicis situdes, thanks particularly to the financial support of the Young Indian Vegetarians and Jains and other donors inspired by the example and significance of the Barbers’ deeds. Ray took on a part-time job to pay for some of the expenses, but a series of accidents progressively reduced his valiant efforts. Money has also been raised by artisanal use of the premises by craft workers. Local farmers have offered help, although they have been sceptical about the whole enterprise. The vets too take a dim view, and the McCartneys, who rear and keep farm livestock as pets, have avoided any recognition of the Barbers’ efforts. Nonetheless, the denizens of Court Lodge farm have been spared a cruel fate, have lived long lives – some surviving to this day – and have established their own culture and families. It is the sort of collection to which the new Animal Welfare Act has applied in England since 6th April. VEGA has devoted much effort to the Act. Its application and our description of the Chillingham herd of cattle are nice memorials to Ray’s commitment and care of animals ruthlessly exploited and practices obscurantism of purported animal welfarists.

Ray played a major role in a BBC Radio 4 program that was made and abruptly withdrawn 20 or 25 years ago. It was intended for the Food Program as a tribute to The Cow. It was made by Dylan Winter for Derek Cooper and Sheila Dillon, the producers, some of it recorded at Court Lodge farm. Its showing was preceded a week before by a full-page article by Colin Spencer in the Guardian and inclusion in the Radio Times lists. It was reviewed very favourably by commentators in the press who had received advance tapes but had not noticed the withdrawal. Writers in the Guardian and Daily Telegraph were particularly annoyed and animal welfarists bombarded the BBC with their complaints, for which the Corporation prepared a standard reply in defence, as well as ran some of the objections on air in another program. Dylan Winter had had farming experience with livestock and was deeply impressed by the Barbers’ sincerity. Ray, usually a quiet Yorkshireman of few words, pronounced as damning indictment of the dairy/beef/veal industry as any well-versed commentator could make. The program may have been cruelly aborted at the last moment but his message, rescued from suppression, will resonate for many animal welfarists as another nice memory of the Ray who showed such decency and respect for the animals.

While doubts remain over the future of Court Lodge farm, thoughts linger of ways to raise funding to continue its example and message in a constructive veggie way. The pastures slope down to the River Rother, which is weakly tidal and floods the lower meadows in winter, which has environmental effects, good and questionable. The slope faces north and is therefore hardly suitable for the local wine-producing industry. Hazel nuts (cobnuts, filberts) are a traditional crop in the area with a veggie flavor, but at the moment it is not vigorously cultivated – and it’s highly susceptible to predators, particularly squirrels. There are possibilities for market gardens and other horticultures and in CAP subsidies for Countryside Stewardship, but these would entail facilities for access and passage: ramblers aren’t all considerate.

Meanwhile, we send our condolences to Sheila, who has lost a noble partner and a fine man.

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