By Jim Wallker

LAST WEEK we experienced the biggest fall of snow in the Nith Valley since 1984 – it was at least a foot at the house and probably double that on the hill.

I’ve seldom seen hills ewes so stormed in, with huge drifts and blowing snow all over the top end of the hill. We haven’t seen three of four hundred of the Blackies for a week, despite several attempts to find them.

Hopefully, now the thaw has arrived there won’t be too many casualties. Luckily, all the gimmers were on a lower part of the hill and are ok. So, hopefully, the older ewes will know the ropes and not get into any trouble.

Michael has his drone out now he can see, so will fly over the hill to check, maybe we will get a better idea after that. Of all the things I thought the drone would be used for, looking for sheep in the snow wasn’t one of them!

Everything is so much more difficult with deep snow to contend with, so the last week has been very challenging for man and beast. My biggest challenge has been travelling up and down the road to Motherwell and Chester to my renewables businesses.

The afternoon and evening of Tuesday, January 16, was the daddy of them all. It took me 3½ hours to go 30-odd miles from Cleland to Abington, having tried three routes to get to the M74. Luckily, I finally got to Abington, via Lanark, only to find the M74 like the road out of Kuwait to Basra at the end of the Iraq War.

I have never had to drive in conditions like it and never seen so many vehicles in trouble in the north bound lane between Beattock and Abington. No wonder it took the whole night to clear, it was carnage.

I have a four-wheel-drive car with winter tyres and I was one of only two vehicles that were on the southbound carriageway at around 7pm on Tuesday night and boy what a drive. Deep snow, blowing a gale with poor visibility, except for every five minutes when the sky lit up with lightning. Apocalyptic is the only word to describe the journey from Abington to the Dumfries exit. Mind you at least I was moving, which is more than the poor sods trying to get into Scotland.

The state of the roads in Lanarkshire and Dumfries and Galloway during the last week has been appalling. I realise extreme weather events happen, which stretches resources, but surely you still need some basic level of assets to deal with these events. I saw one snow plough/gritter from Cleland to Abington that night and passed one plough trying valiantly to keep the inside lane of the M74 open near Beattock, mind you the rest were probably stuck on the road between Beattock and Basra on the north bound lane.

At home, we cleared all the minor roads around the farms ourselves and even some of the roads around Kelloholm due to total lack of interest by the council.

If money is so scarce, then instead of taxing us out of existence why doesn’t the Scottish Government legislate to ensure all vehicles have to fit winter tyres after November 15 the way they do in Switzerland or Austria. If they won’t plough and grit the roads, which clearly they won’t, then we need to do something different to keep the country moving.

More generally, I do wonder what we pay our council tax for in the countryside. The council won’t lift our rubbish, they don’t clear snow or ice, they cut the verges once a year and never clear a roadside ditch.

And now that the snow is thawing, just wait until you see the state of the road surfaces. There will be more potholes than you would find in a third world country – that is guaranteed.

So now it seems we are having to fend for ourselves in rural Scotland with appalling public services what else is Scot Gov considering? Well it would seem they may want to tax land as well.

Not content to watch farm incomes fall to well below the minimum wage for many owner occupiers, some seem to think taxing land ownership is both fair and reasonable.

Meanwhile, the 'other government' in the UK, is proposing doing away with any direct farm support to anyone with a so-called large farm and English farmers will be incentivised to stop producing food and flood their farms or grow wild flowers. I’ve been saying for months, Michael Gove is dangerous this proves it beyond any doubt – really bright, but dangerous.

No wonder Abi Bunker (head of policy and advocacy at RSPB) has placed her order for an 'I Love Gove' T-shirt which I read about the other day. She is not alone amongst environmental lobbyists – they will be queuing up for them.

She goes on in this recent report 'yes we need a productive countryside, but that needs to encapsulate not just wheat, but healthy wildlife and clean water too'.

And, of course, this kind of out dated, ill-informed nonsense is the fundamental problem with this debate. A handful of high profile large arable farms with big subsidy payments in England bear no resemblance to farming in Scotland, which is still livestock orientated and mainly LFA.

So we don't get any real discussion about the importance of food production, or the fact that bigger farms tend to employ labour and create economic activity in rural areas. Just a totally simplistic view of farming that folk like Gove and the supporters of taxing farmland in Scotland seem to have.

Which is, if you own land, you're rich and the more you own, the richer you are, so you should be penalised.

Productive farming in Scotland is not just wheat and it doesn’t by definition harm the environment. Nor is it the play thing of the super-rich.

Unless these messages start getting louder from those that lobby on our behalf, our post-Brexit world may not be the land of milk and honey many had hoped for. But managing the environment can only happen if the economics of farming work and it's time folk start realising this before it is too late.

The noise needs to start now or Abi and her pals will win all the T-shirts they have ever dreamt of but the country and the countryside will be the poorer for it.