Bird and insect life flourishes

“This blog is the unfolding story of Rush Farm and an exploration of life by its philosopher farmer.”

May has brought with it a number of family birthdays. Last week it was Anne’s turn, and on Monday we celebrated another, in this instance Brendan. Given that he had work to go back to in London on Tuesday, it may be that lunchtime had to be the time for cake and singing! He of course, like Alice, is of an age when birthdays can be viewed rather differently from how Anne and I feel about them – don’t misunderstand me, far better still here than not!!  

The Farm

The recent warmth, and six hours of gentle rain on Wednesday clearly has helped growth on the majority of pastures, but two are still a worry, not least because they were reseeded so recently as part of our Stewardship agreement.  

As yet there is little sign of wildflowers, or the diversity of grasses hoped for, except for buttercups, but it is perhaps a little early, and we have had almost two and a half months without any substantial rainfall.  

The dandelions are all but over, and last Saturday Brendan on a farm walk saw what could only be described as a mummer of their seeds as they rose in the wind in great numbers.  

Buttercups have continued the yellow theme on the fields but are not wanted in large numbers. It is disappointing that after all this time compaction clearly remains a problem.  

While dandelions are not toxic to man or beast, all the vast number of buttercup varieties are toxic. Not only can they kill if eaten in any amount, as a clear warning, but all parts of the plant will also cause blisters to the mouth if contact is made.  

Fortunately, stock seem to be aware of this. Dried, as in hay, the plants are nowhere near being a problem.   

The week has seen a lot of animal movements, including the sending of three cows for transmission to Fordhall Farm. The sheep, after time in fields 9 and 10, are now in the field by the drive – field 8.  Additionally, after our first case of fly strike, action obviously had to be taken, and so all sheep have been treated. This went smoothly even with so many lambs involved. 

As I wrote last week, the young stock remains on the rented fields, while the suckler herd remain on the field across the stream (field 13). Alice made a point of ensuring that the clutch of recently weaned calves was accepted into the larger group of youngsters.  

The suckled herd are having access to feed as the grass in that field has been well grazed. The IR’s of course remain in the barn in splendid isolation. One piece of really good news is that the orphaned calf fairly quickly took to the bottle and has been able to be returned to the main herd as she will come to Alice for her morning and evening bottle feed. I haven’t attempted a head count recently, but numbers now must be closer to 80 than 90, which will reduce the demand on the pastures.  

With Chris away from yesterday evening, extra responsibility has fallen on Alice who works very well with Tim. Brendan, having triumphed in his office cake baking contest has been an important support at the weekends, coming back from his job in London to relax(?) by working on the farm. This means weekend stock checking in all its aspects falls on Alice and Brendan.  

Bird and insect life on the farm flourishes. Not only are there a number of different butterflies to be seen, but additionally the buzz of insects can be heard everywhere. The swarm of swallows that arrived at the end of last week seem to have dispersed as nesting sites have been found – we have at least two pairs nesting in the farmhouse area.  During the week they flitted in and out of the house, though one needed help from Paul who rescued it and released it outdoors. Less positively, a sparrow hawk has been seen in our vicinity. I fear this may have something to do with the vast reduction in bird chatter we are accustomed to hearing in the kitchen.  

Elsewhere on the farm a cuckoo is still heard regularly, the scrape, which still has quite a lot of water in it meets the need of goslings and adults, though Canada geese only I am sorry to say. The sighting of a kingfisher at the end of last week has not been repeated, but hopefully there are enough fish in the stream to encourage the birds to take up permanent residence. Though larks are to be heard, if not in the numbers I remember from past years, there has been no sighting of lapwing visiting, let alone breeding. Even less positively, the farm seems now to be very popular with both rooks and jackdaws, oddly wood pigeons are not seen in the same numbers. Our four remaining Guinea fowl seem to have adjusted to their normal roosting site; the willow trees having been significantly coppiced.  

One of the advantages of keeping weekly farm records is that it’s possible to look back and ‘know’ how much change has actually taken place. Not only has the rainfall pattern altered in a very testing way, but the years are also definitely warming, and though it seems flowers can adjust fairly easily, there has to be a question as to whether trees can do so. If they cannot, the knock-on effect on the bird population could see some species decreasing in numbers.  

Having been a little negative it is truly great to see the hedges we put in looking fully established, and though not all our tree planting has been successful, lessons have been learnt, and plantings in recent years have been supported until their root systems have fully established themselves. I think we can claim as a group to have made good use of the opportunity offered to us, especially when reminded that we were both 65 when we accepted this challenge, few are so fortunate.  

While buttercups are to be seen in most parts of the farm, there are cowslips, and of course in the wood a carpet of wild garlic in flower, aside from bluebells and other woodland flowers. In the garden, aquilegia are out, but the peonies are being very reluctant to actually open their buds.  

The American press

The American press this week has carried a number of interesting and readable articles; the two that really caught my interest related in the first case to Russian ineptitude in their attack on Ukraine, and the second, to the current splits in the American evangelical movement.  

As there have been any number of similar analyses this week in our media on the current war I shall comment no further than to say what we are seeing are all the weaknesses of past dictatorships as displayed in the 20th century, made worse by wishful thinking and endemic corruption.  

I found the article about American evangelism depressing as well as confirming many of my prejudices. Here again there is clear evidence of wishful thinking and corruption, allied to beliefs that bear no relation to Christianity. The split it appears is between those that ‘worship’ Trump, and the remainder, a minority it appears, moreover it seems to have led to real violence between the two sects. It appears Americans retain that impulse to believe quackery as evidenced in the past, by the success of the travelling salesmen and their cures for all ailments, tied to their propensity to fork out money for charlatan ‘preachers’. Sadly, that naivety is still found here – how else could the electorate have voted for Brexit and the election of an individual with a proven track record of being driven by self-interest alone, and in that cause, be happy to destroy people’s confidence in politicians to that afforded to journalists.  

Nick Robinson in the Radio Times wrote, as you would expect, in a very balanced way, about the apparent determination of so many British politicians to drag politics down to the mud and sleaze so frequently seen in South and Central America.  


I appreciate that in my last set of notes I was critical of the decision at the time I wrote of the German decision not to send howitzers to Ukraine. I happily withdrew the criticism, mentally at least, as it was fairly soon reversed, but then the head of Volkswagen made clear his view that Germany should do nothing to harm their economy – Volkswagen was of course one of the many big industrial companies that prospered under both the Nazi’s and subsequently.  

I wonder if I am alone in being surprised at the talk of howitzers’ being vital pieces of artillery. Though the word is hardly new, being apparently first used on the 17th century, I first recall it being used by the navy in the Napoleonic wars and being fitted in bomb ketches where they were used as large mortars firing explosive shells, and unlike canon firing, their shells in a high parabola. Their range was limited by the angle they could fire at, and the amount of gunpowder the weapon was strong enough to be used with.  

Conventional artillery whether large or small, fires in a flat trajectory though obviously as the range increases, allowance must be made for parabolic effect of gravity. Even ‘Big Bertha ‘in the first World War and the 15” guns of HMS Vanguard in the Second had a maximum range of less than 30 miles. The Howitzer, a glorified mortar, of today, depending on the calibre, can easily exceed that distance. Long range artillery fire is now exactly that. Moreover, unlike the early bomb ketches, which to enable them to fire at any given target had to be lined up by ropes, since the mortar could only have its angle of fire adjusted. Not so the modern weapons, rarely if ever found on naval vessels because of their weight and recoil.  


On Friday evening I was stupid enough to watch ‘The Larkins’, not so much because compared to the books it is not quite in the same league, but because the adverts every 12 minutes are puerile, bear so little resemblance to reality and worst of all present a totally false image of values and standards – yuk!  

A musical interlude..

Finally, having given myself a Terry Woganesqueu link I, having been brave enough to get round to listening to a complete collection of Scriabin’s piano works, realised the ‘blurb’ that had been putting me off for years was total rubbish, or I am a complete philistine. To quote sections of that document…’this name will always be linked to the memory of something fearful and deranged, of a creative force that was full of chaotic ravings’… and so on. I am happy to say that I have enjoyed these discs very much and listened to them all many times – do not let yourself be ‘put off’ from listening to music he composed.  

The Christian church 

I do realise that my interest, or if you wish fascination, with the early stages of the development of the Christian church, is probably not shared by many, but I do wish eventually to discuss two topics which I suspect are even less discussed.  

But to get to get to those, some very selective and condensed background history is necessary. Explaining exactly how the 27 books, now the accepted Canon, came to be decided on is not simple, and I have no intention of attempting to go further than indicating how and when it was necessary to move away from the oral tradition, and decide on the four gospels to be included.  

If the second century dealt with the challenge of Gnosticism, the third and fourth faced even greater doctrinal challenges, which were largely settled by the end of the fourth century.  

The settled Canon excluded a large number of other books which are to be found in the apocrypha. Nor am I prepared to venture into the conflict between beliefs in the East and West now still very much in evidence.  

A standing joke is that if 12 economists are asked a question you will get 13 different answers. The joke persists of course because it contains a universal truth. So it was that the Jewish community was made of a number of groups holding differing views though it may have been less fragmented than the early Christian church. Both demonstrated this human characteristic which seems built into the human psyche of rarely agreeing on what one hears, sees or believes.  

Judaism before, and later after the time of Jesus, was made up of a number of strands – Pharisees, Sadducees, Essenes and Christians (Nazarenes), until in 85 AD the Nazarenes were cast out of the Jewish community even though many early Christians still practiced Jewish customs. These were known as the Ebionites, but eventually were determined not to be Christian by Irenaeus – the Bishop of Lyons at the end of the second century – as being heretical since it seems they did not accept the concept of virgin birth.  

Christian communities sprang up all along the coast of the Mediterranean, each with their own Bishop and worshipping community loosely held together by the belief that each accepted the same common faith, and common way of ordering their life and worship. Two substantial communities stood out from the others. One was based in Corinth and held to the notion of dualism – the difference between matter and spirit. The other was based in Colossae, and adopted an amalgamation of Christianity, theosophy and Judaism.  

Having referred to theosophy, I need to comment very briefly on Gnosticism, which seems to have been the most significant challenge to ‘orthodox’ Christianity between AD 80 and AD 150. Gnostics were certainly not of one mind, but it appears it was the rejection of the idea of reincarnation that bound them together. Allied to this were doubts as to how Christianity could see the Old Testament in its entirety as being relevant. A key gnostic leader, Valentinus, though holding reservations about aspects of that testament, did not go as far as the most radial of the group, Marcion, who saw the retention of the Old Testament as a sop to Judaism, and indeed rejected three of the gospels as being written by those, simply unable to sever links to Judaism. He did accept Luke though, thinking his words had been tempered with by those contaminated by Judaism.  

Clearly the early Church had a major need to be able to refute all these ideas. Oral tradition underlay the gospels, and remained an important part of belief, and here once again Bishop Irenaeus had an important part to play in recognising the need for an accepted written Canon.   

As Christianity moved into the 3rd century, other figures became prominent, including Simon Martyr and Origen, but the notion of Irenaeus, that the four gospels should form the basis of that canon, stuck even if some of the justifications offered are a little hard to take seriously except the role of faith.  

The gospels of Mark and Luke took primacy as being sanctioned by Peter and Paul. Mathew and John fulfilled the rule of four, which to Irenaeus and somehow, Revelations, squeezed in as being written by the same person as the gospel of John around AD 120.  

At the same time, the decision to keep the Old Testament was confirmed. I hope, perhaps in my next notes to explore the reasons why the contents of the apocrypha, which are numerous failed to gain universal acceptance.  

I have chosen an extract from a long poem by the Scottish poet Robert Burns partly because personally having never taken him too seriously, I decided it was time I did, and because I very much enjoyed reading the long poem from which the extract comes – Tom O’Shanter  

“But pleasures are like poppies spread,  
You seize the flower, its bloom is shed;  
Or like the snow falls in the river,  
A moment white–then melts for ever;  
Or like the borealis race,  
That flit ere you can point their place;  
Or like the rainbow’s lovely form  
Evanishing amid the storm.–  
Nae man can tether time or tide;  
The hour approaches Tam maun ride;  
That hour, o’ night’s black arch the key-stane,  
That dreary hour he mounts his beast in;  
And sic a night he taks the road in  
As ne’er poor sinner was abroad in”  

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