Birds!

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

Until a few days ago, looming over our heads was the requirement that came in last week, that the eight fields in Higher Tier should each have a six-week continuous period of not being grazed, all this while we knew the weather in April had been such that there was little growth on the pastures. Fortunately, this month we have had the warmth of May and the once normal weather of April and growth is romping away. 

The week started on a high as we had a the first of Gert’s visits to survey the variety and numbers of birds on the farm, which since he began at 5am, meant an earlier morning than I am now accustomed to for de-briefing.   

We an excellent session with him even though I probably kept him talking for longer than he anticipated. On his last visits we were still growing 20 acres of cereal a year, so it was no surprise that the variety of birds seen was down. In truth not only was the variety down but so were the numbers of some varieties.  Sadly, it appears this is the picture nationally.  

Whether it is climate change, agribusiness or direct human intervention the numbers of some varieties are dropping below a sustainable number. And it appears that the picture with moths is at least as depressing.  

But on a more positive note, for us, we may have a rookery but apparently Gert saw very few Carrion Crows which it my book rank as being even less desirable than magpies! Nor it seems did he see any small raptors like kestrels and sparrow hawks.  

Gert will be back in June and hopefully may hear or see other birds then, such as the cuckoo, lapwing or Reed Bunting. An evening visit might also reveal that we have owls on the farm other than a Barn Owl.  

He also recorded the mammals he saw. Far too many rabbits, a splendid number of brown hares, the Roe deer family which seem based here and one fox.  

As an aside, we had further surveying help on the farm this week too from Ricky, and he reported no hedgehogs. Rightly or wrong he ascribes this to there being badgers in the vicinity. If so, it is a potential source of concern, but given our cattle went clear at the TB testing perhaps these badgers are also TB free.  

Gert left us with a number of ideas as to now we might make the farm even more bird friendly, and discussions have already started on those. One is straightforward, merely relying on us to remember to strim in late February a substantial part of the island in the scrape in the hope of encouraging lapwing. The second suggestion was the erection of a variety of sized bird boxes in the wood and with, hopefully a wedding anniversary coming up in July, the family now know what presents would be acceptable. This leaves two proposals which are less easy to adopt but I will keep you posted.  

I suppose I should share with you that we had a slight run in with a group of ramblers. Fortunately, our eldest grandson was on hand to calm matters. The field they were crossing by a footpath had a clearly marked electric fence and was occupied by our suckler herd which unsurprisingly were curious about the two dogs the group had with them. All that was required was to wave them away as Brendan of course did. English beef cows are, at their most active only curious, they are totally unlike continental breeds and some dairy breeds also. Young stock can certainly bounce around more but are easily sent on their way.  

As far as the animals are concerned, all seems well with the cattle who remain on the same fields. A feed trailer with a neem brush has been put in as this allows scratching with a purpose – killing lice. As I may have written before, our cattle have many folds in their skin, ideal territory for lice. Their field also has hedges they can get in and nibble. If only our wood was not so wet, we might be able to them browse in it.  

The sheep have had to adjust to two moves and are now all in the field by the house. For the lambs this may prove less interesting for opportunities to play ‘King of the Castle’ are gone for a period. The water tank in the field having been unused for some months had to be emptied and cleaned before the sheep moved in.  

The barn is now strangely empty and quiet, though there are four animals still being held apart from other stock.  

There is still no indication of when fencing material will once again become available, but there are plenty of small jobs that can be done including a task that all love to be involved in, which is digging up hemlock! 

The grass under the apple trees is dressed with petals as a result of the rain and strong winds of a few days ago – very attractive when a break in the clouds allows sunshine through. 

I suspect I have under reported this spring’s frost damage. A number of small ornamental trees may not in fact recover having been struck twice by severe frosts with a six week break in between. A week ago, I had expected the peonies to be in flower, but they are not yet though our one tree peony has three blooms on it. 

It looks increasingly likely that we will have French agricultural undergraduates. There will be plenty of them to do and adults to spend time with them. 

Language

Perhaps because I am writing again regularly, my interest in our language continues to grow and my understanding of the challenges it presents has grown likewise. No language, as far as I know, is entirely regular, but a particular challenge English poses is that so often one has to rely on whether something sounds right, and it can be very hard to work out the reason behind such a judgement.  

Anyway, I have provided myself with an aide memoire and for the young people a list of words that they will inevitably come across working here. There is one matter I cannot move on. Because possibly of the disconnect between our spelling and pronunciation, my generation at least, escaped any contact with the phonetic alphabet. Given in spoken English we use twenty vowels and twenty-four consonants you will appreciate the problem. Add to that the casual way English has adopted words but quite likely adjusted their meaning and the challenge is increased. 

Garden things

As far as the gardens are concerned it has been a delight to see butterflies again – none quite as beautiful as the one in Danny’s drawing.  

Also, this year “Forget me nots’ are displaying magnificently. They seem to hold a position between weed and flower, they self-seed which is a real positive and when they grow in large clumps provide a very attractive sight.  

A plant I saw last week really confused me until a daughter set me straight. See if you can at once identify this.   

The house for much of the day is surrounded by bird ‘chatter’ and in the evening a blackbird serenades us from the power pole. Theo, one of our three grandsons drew the attached picture.  

Side tracking massively, two of my grandsons are artistic and the other a born maker of things, yet I am neither artistic nor anything other than rubbish at work involving my hands – some things are just sent to confuse us.  

The pundits will I am sure be having a great time analysing the results of the recent election, and I certainly have my own thoughts on the matter – which I stress are my thoughts only.  

Politics and authority

I start from the position of having spent the bulk of my working life in local government, and in having worked for both Conservative and Labour authorities. My own experience, apart from a time in a London Borough, was that politics was rarely the bone of contention, and that for the most part members were struggling to do the best they might for their constituents. Nor did I see evidence of corruption or nepotism. Of course, the word was that planning and housing might be contaminated but I never saw anything to confirm that.   

Where there was a clear divide between the nature of the authority and politics was over areas in which the trade unions were active.  

A clear indication of this was when the teacher unions became over involved. Teacher strikes were far less common in Conservative authorities than in those held by Labour. Similarly, it was also sometimes noticeable in Labour authorities that concern about spending taxpayer’s money could slip.  

If all that were true of the major authorities, it is even more true at district and parish level, though there may be times when questions of nepotism, need the reporting of local newspapers to ensure no slippage.  

I start at this point because it is so easy to forget though historically there was a divide between the Whigs and Tories which though often very fractious, was of a different character than when the Labour parties came on the scene.  

For a start although it was firmly rooted in Methodism it also attracted ‘fellow travellers’, social engineers including views that were later since implemented by the Nazi’s.  

Nonetheless its prime motivation was to represent trade union members.  

To get a sense of grass roots politics before 1914 think of the impromptu speech given by our hero in the ‘39 steps’.  

Between the wars aside from a short period at the start of the Thirties which did not go well government rested with the Conservative party.  

In the inter-war period, apart from a short unsuccessful period in government, the status quo held. All parties see themselves as ‘umbrella’ organisations, but this obviously has negative political implications if the public perceive a lack of unity and the range of interests under the Labour umbrella was uncomfortably wide.  

After the Second WW change was inevitable, anticipation had been raised by the National Government, no one had forgotten what the fate had been of the returning soldiers after the First war, and in Clement Attlee the country was rewarded with one of the best PM’s ever, allied to a tight fiscal policy Finance minister and a genuine class warrior (and wife in Jennie) Bevan.  

Labour then for many was born out of an ‘us or them’ feeling, and though supported by members of the intelligentsia was essentially about class. Hence after 1950 it’s support was restricted to the intelligentsia and the membership of the unionised heavy industries, and a tribal element came into play.  

So, by the 1950’s the country moved into a pattern of power shifting between the two parties. Not surprising since policy differences became ever slighter. The period post 1979 saw the balance of power between organised Labour and the nationally elected government massively rebalanced. Following this, in Tony Blair we had a politician who could probably have led either of the main parties.  

But after Blair the Labour Party appeared captured by a group who saw the collective as more important than the individual, and so clung to outdated and unacceptable beliefs.  

With ideology triumphing over pragmatism, and in so doing and in a world where the power of the unions was reduced and since for a large part of the “working class”, the Conservatives were the natural choice, and Labour seemed ever more lost.  

And why should anyone be surprised. We are by nature socially conservative – home, family and country allied to fiscal competence – the key motivators for all except perhaps the university educated young.  Furthermore, although the class war is not entirely defunct, it is but a shadow of what it was. The key divide, if there is one, relates to a combination of age and education.  

Matters I believe were undoubtedly exacerbated by the Blair Government introducing nationalism into the equation. I would suggest that prior to this, only a small number of people were bothered as to whether they were Irish, Welsh, Scottish or English. Anybody with GCSE psychology should have been able to predict that the ‘sleeping giant’ in the mix would be in due course, stirred into feeling.  

And so, it did happen, the English, a people who had rarely thought what it meant to be English have been made conscious that they are, at least as a collective, regarded as the ‘enemy’ by members of other parts of the Kingdom. The consequences we saw only too clearly in the recent elections.  

“Country” now means for a majority of English voters, England – not the United Kingdom since this is made up of nations wanting to leave it and easily seen to be parasitic.  

Does the Barnett formula not rely on the major source of income in these islands, the South-East of England, and couldn’t its money be better used to support the poorer area of England? Would the English have voted for Brexit if the people of the north-east and south-west had not felt neglected and unheard.  

And finally, where does the Labour Party fit into this new world? Where can they show that there is a divide between the core of the two parties, for both are, in American terms, at its kindest, ‘socialist’. 

Of course, there are always those on the furthest fringes of political view and their sway ebbs and flows. Perhaps the best hope for Labour is, if carried away with success and sleaze, the right wing currently in full voice fails to recognise that they are as despised as their counterparts to the left of the political spectrum and pushes on with an agenda which contains shades of populist dictatorship.  

Idealism is a vital aspect of any society, but it has its limits and its drawbacks. Sadly, a key failure is to recognise that, except for Saints, should there be any such, as humans we have a whole set of built-in responses, some good, some less so. Within individuals they may vary in strength, but they are there. Some we recognise, and may manage or mitigate, some are offset by other built-in impulses, some we may only recognise too late or not at all.   

One of the most common is of course prejudice, which can take many forms from extremes such as racism to simply being against those who hold different views.  

One of mine that I am aware of is prejudice against ritual. I suspect this has its roots partly in the religious background against which I was brought up, and partly because I am prejudiced against conformity and authority.  

So, to me the various rituals associated with all religions, I find abhorrent, dangerous, meaningless and past their sell by date. But rituals do not have of course have to be religious. They are mechanisms employed by dictators, and societies in general. They provide a sense of inclusion and centre to one’s actions as well as being a control mechanism.  

Inevitably the more ritual separates you from others, the more it alienates. Alienation breeds a host ‘of negative responses, especially if introduced into a society for which they are unusual and can easily lead to hostility. For the individual caught in this trap, a conscious decision has to be made whether or not to flaunt your practices, knowing that this is likely to have a negative effect.  

This is hardly a new problem. In the Elizabethan period so long as you kept your head down and caused no trouble, your religious or non-religious beliefs were no matter.  In a later period, one of the differences between continental and English thought was over the meaning of freedom. Freedom by that stage in this country simply meant physical freedom. What went on in your head was entirely your own business.  

In recent days we have had a number of ritualistic activities that have effectively poured fuel on potential fires, from demanding the union flag is flown in every nation in the United Kingdom, to events in Jerusalem where extreme Jewish citizens acted in ways bound to inflame the Palestinians. China, North Korea, Russia and Turkey are masters of the art.   

But being human, I write this knowing my own position is not consistent; there are certain rituals which I know I respond to. The ritual surrounding the funeral of the Duke of Edinburgh triggered a number of emotional responses, as does the sound of the ‘Last Post’ and the singing of ‘land of hope and glory’ at the end of the promenade concerts.  

The best life and society we can hope for is, I believe, one in which we recognise, and many have said this about politics, life is about the possible, but not to abandon all hope that we all individually and collectively can do better.  

This week I have turned to “Come Hither” the collection of poems made by Walter de la Mare and a trusty companion for as long as I can remember. The choice is absurdly wide but was finally made.  

If the language is slightly testing be kind, this was written in the 17th century.  

And now all Nature seem’d in love, The lusty sap began to move;  
New juice did stir th’embracing Vines, And Birds had drawn their Valentines: The jealous Trout, that low did lie, Rose at a well-dissembled flie:  
There stood my Friend, with patient skill Attending of his trembling quill.  
Already were the Eves possest  
With the swift Pilgrims daubed nest. The Groves already did rejoyce  
In Philomels triumphing voice.  
The showers were short, the weather mild, The morning fresh, the evening smil’d. DJune takes her neat-rub’d Pale, and now She trips to milk the Sand-red Cow; Where for some sturdy foot-ball Swain, June strokes a sillabub or twain.  
The Fields and Gardens were beset  
With Tulip, Crocus, Violet:  
And now, though late, the modest Rose Did more then half a blush disclose.  
Thus all look’d gay, all full of chear,  
To welcome the New-livery’d yea

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