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When will the sheep safely graze?

By , on 12 May 2009

The Guardian today reports that restrictions are still in place on 369 hill sheep farms related to contamination from Chernobyl. A farmer in North Wales describes how “”I remember a meeting with civil servants at the time [1986] and got the impression they thought it would be short-lived. No-one had any idea it would go on this long.”

In the early 1990s, Brian Wynne wrote a series of defining pieces in the ‘contextual’ public understanding of science research discussing Chernobyl fallout and sheep farming in Cumbria. He described how local knowledge of farming conditions was ignored by mainstream scientific advice to government and farmers about the persistence of contamination from the Chernobyl nuclear disaster (Wynne 1992). Wynne describes how assertions from government scientists that the problem would clear up in weeks contradicted farmers’ own knowledges about the contingenices of farming in the Lake District, and took no account of the idiosyncratic features of area. The ‘one-size fits all’ model adopted by the scientists undermined the status of local lay knowledges, and created disillusionment with scientist’s ability to predict and manage risks. The study forms the basis for the ‘contextual public understanding of science’, in which public reception, perception and use of scientific knowledge are seen as not only related to the public’s formal understanding of its content, to “the forms of institutional embedding, patronage, organisation and control of scientific knowledge” (Wynne, 1992:42).

Wynne, B. 1992. “Misunderstood misunderstanding: social identities and public uptake of science.” Public Understanding of Science 1:304, 281.

Wynne, B. 1996. “May the sheep safely graze? A reflexive view of the expert-lay knowledge divide.” Risk, Environment and Modernity: Towards a New Ecology 44–83.

8 Responses to “When will the sheep safely graze?”

  • 1
    Библиотекарь wrote on 24 September 2009:

    Спасибо, хороший блог! хотя я бы кое что добавил по теме…

  • 2
    What do you want to discuss? | Beyond Blogging wrote on 29 September 2010:

    […] Do Cumbrian sheep farmers know things about sheep behaviour that London-based experts from Maff don&#82…? […]

  • 3
    SIGRID BRAMLEY-GONNSEN wrote on 26 April 2012:

    In 1986 Husband and I had our first hill farming year (of 17) in the Duddon Valley, Cumbria. Chernobyl taught us our first lesson: You observe, take note and ADAPT to what is, not THEORIZE as to what MAY be or MIGHT have been,given certain conditions. Fact was -and mind we didn’t know better then – 5 lambs in 30 were born with physical abnormalities, all died.Flocks of neighbouring farmers produced more abnormally developed lambs than usual. In the sparsely settled valley two women miscarried. The government told us not to drink water from our usual supply,the beck off the fell. How did they imagine, we could cart all the water for us and all lifestock to our farm, three hours from the local shop 15 miles away? Our farm was 600ft up and 25 miles east of Sellafield as the wind blows. Monitoring sheep became a way of life; living close to Windscale aka Sellafield aka CalderBridge (name changes followed bad news)was a calculated risk for us.
    By the time Foot and Mouth arrived in 2001 we had grown a little wiser still.
    My husband died that year at 64 from a heart attack.
    I am 53 and moved to Sweden in 2003.

  • 4
    noel troy wrote on 12 December 2014:

    hello, sigi, Im sure you remember me. its noel troy, playwright, poet extraordinaire. I lived at browside when we first met. if we reconnect it will be a bit of a miracle. you have my e-mail, and im currently living in london. my phone number is 07811407697

  • 5
    Lampadaire Design wrote on 25 June 2012:

    The contamination of water due to industries is a common fact in developing World. This is certainly creating more danger to live stocks day by day.

    The UN should come heavily on this front in various countries around the World. If stringent efforts are not taken now then I don’t feel that the sheep would ever graze safely in future.

  • 6
    Maya Carter wrote on 4 July 2012:

    Unjudicious urban planning and contamination of land and water resources is causing a great threat to live stock. There needs to be wide spread awareness and a strong step needs to be taken in this regard.

  • 7
    Johnson Alexa wrote on 28 August 2012:

    Contamination of water due to industrial waste is a common fact. We need to make some strict guidelines how to dispose the industrial wastes so that we can save water for our coming generation . Also I strongly feel that the local knowledge of farming conditions must not be ignored by mainstream scientific while advising the government.

  • 8
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