I can do no other than start with the fact that this week it was 75 years since the allied landings in occupied Europe. I am part of that generation born during the war but then growing up in a country showing much evidence of that conflict in bomb sites, food rationing and father’s coming to grips with the return to civilian and family life.
Here, it’s not been a bad week on the farm; rain on Tuesday and Friday, allied to warmish weather was very much welcomed in this year of the transition onto the Higher Tier Stewardship scheme when so many fields are being re-seeded. Mind you, as the grass grows so do the weeds!
Despite the rain on Tuesday the ground was firm enough for work on the pastures – topping and harrowing as appropriate.
Work continues on taking down old fencing with a view to getting more new fences in place in the next couple of weeks. The compost heap by the barn has been turned and declared ready for spreading. There is little point clearing the barn since it has to be used for TB testing on the 22nd and 25th.
There are fields ready for cutting but first it is necessary to be sure that they are ragwort free. While there are fervent protagonists for the value of ragwort to insects and birds one thing is certain – it is toxic to animals, particularly if dried, and, like paracetamol if too much is ingested causes it fatal damage to the liver. For some reason it seems sheep are less affected than cattle and horses.
How to get rid of it is almost as contentious an issue as eliminating hemlock. Pulling it is the usual approach, but like certain other plants if any root is left it will reappear in the following year. Cutting before it sets seed is an option but as with hemlock the cutting must be burnt and the plant will attempt to flower in the following year.
Nettles, creeping thistle and docks pose quite different problems. None are toxic but they are difficult to control let alone eliminate. Our only weapons of defence are grazing animals and regular topping. But as any gardener will know in certain years some weeds are not as great a problem as in others. Non-organic farmers have different answers to these problems!
The sheep were moved during the week, and overall seem to be doing very well. Though we do not have a date for shearing, the shearers are booked. The lambs will need their second clostridial vaccination in four weeks’ time and should lameness be seen, they can all be put through a footpath at the same time.
The main daily task is to check none have suffered fly strike. Bottle feeding the orphans will end very soon. The rams have done an excellent job grazing the small triangular field by the drive but since they will not eat the nettles and that is all that is left, they had to be moved and have joined the youngstock!
As far as the cattle are concerned thoughts about the coming 60-day TB test are in all our minds. Putting those to one side a particular problem related to having a ‘herd under restrictions’ is that Bacchus needs to be moved on within the year if at all possible or we start selling his female daughters. On Friday a male calf was born, and all seems well there.
The eye infection which seems largely to affect the young stock throws up new cases almost every day. The only positive thing that can be said is that after treatment, recovery is quick. What of course is unknown is whether reinfection is possible.
Hopefully next week the young stock can be given a mineral drench to boost their health after a winter feed programme based on straw. A number are showing continuing lice problems and that needs to be tackled as well. The suckler herd will move next week onto the large field at the back of the farm which has the large scrape in it – currently full of water and a potential hazard for young calves.
I cannot resist sharing with you the news that of my remaining nine citrus trees, five are in bud and flower. Planted as pips forty years ago they represent a third of the trees I originally had. Keeping them is obviously a total waste of time in a lot of ways, but when they do at last flower, their fragrance is even more powerful than that of the jasmine, and of roses on the front of the house.
Though I have not yet seen any bats when walking the dogs, I do see small flying insects though none as grand as this elephant hawk moth that Paul spotted. I have seen two swallows close to the house, but I have not seen any over the fields. Are they responding to the threat of Brexit or are the hunters of Malta and the south of France just killing more these days? Whatever, they are missed!
With the AGM coming up on the 15th, those of you who can attend will, as every year, be given the opportunity to see the farm for yourselves. For those whose walking is restricted, transport will be provided. The meeting will take place in a marquee, unlike previous years, and it will be set up close to the pond. I am allowed a chance to speak and answer questions, but my instructions are very clear – ‘keep it short’! I still rather resent being taken off the trailer rides round the farm because my sessions were said to exceed the time allowed but what can one do! Whatever, I look forward to being present and meeting familiar faces.
Last year I referred to the Reith Lectures given by Margaret Macmillan the Canadian war historian. I have never been a particular enthusiast for these lectures in general so was surprised to find myself again this year listening with great interest to a recently retired UK Supreme Court Judge. While in principle I have no doubt that the law is central to any democracy, having been reared on A P Herbert and having enjoyed Rumpole I do have reservations about those who practice the trade.
The present speaker is certainly no demagogue, but since in this week lecture his views were on two legal issues, which have concerned me for years, my attention was totally caught. The first related to the notion that we have inalienable rights as human beings and the second the accumulation of power by supreme courts.
Leaving aside the notion that rights need to have some connection to responsibility, what truly bothers me is the abysmal failure to understand that ‘rights’ are a human construct, set, in a democracy, by elected members and in a totalitarian regime by the dictator. If I have any rights that is because parliament has ruled it be so and the law is there to protect them.
The second concern is the way this country’s Supreme Court seems to be slipping into the totally undemocratic approach of the American system and European systems. Judges are not meant to determine policy but to implement it. If parliament considers a matter and reaches a position the Supreme Court should and must, support that position – to act otherwise betrays their constitutional position. The Law may well be an ass as A P Herbert enjoyed demonstrating, but it is what has been constitutional determined. If you think a law is wrong, work with your M.P. to change it not look to judges.
So much in life is about balance and that is no less true about farming. One small example is about keeping the balance between opportunities for wild life of all sorts and avoiding the farm just looking scruffy but at the same time not allowing an area to revert to wilderness; Allowing hedgerows to flourish but not losing too much growing area and meeting the needs of birds who prefer hedges of different heights; Keeping the right mix of stock to best use the land, and at the same time keeping enough animals for the farm to be economically viable without abusing the land; and, critically, understanding that without our interference plants that are vital to insect and bird life can so easily disappear. A patch in our gardens was turned over last year but then left. This is year it is a mass of poppies, thistles, groundsel and nettles. For a short period, it has looked attractive, before and after, it will look less so soon, but the finches love it as do the bees. However, were it to be just left untouched, next year nettles and bramble would ensure that the patch would not only look bad but also provide little for birds and insects.
I am finding Andrew Taylor’s second book set in restoration England and featuring a character called James Marwood, hard going. His first book the ‘Ashes of London’ was enjoyable and informative but I am struggling with this, his second. It may simply be that world it describes can only be called sordid and I have to be in the right mood to cope with that – perhaps it feels a little too like aspects of today!
The middle of the week saw the commemorative events honouring the D Day landings. I found it impossible to ignore the television coverage. Fortunately for my sister and myself, given his age, our father was a staff officer with the rear headquarters of 84 Group RAF and so landed well after the beachheads had been secured, and safely returned to England in due course from north Germany. We have his letters to our mother covering that period of his service. These were the letters of a civilian doing what was needed; veterans of the actual D Day landings expressed similar thoughts along with the sadness of remembering those comrades who died during the invasion. For that generation it was not about heroics and was an experience most would push to the back of their minds until they died.
In the circumstances I looked to find an appropriate poem, I am reminded that a poem does appear in many guises, so perhaps you might listen to this song: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=9X6WxLbTmok Finding it impossible to restrict myself to one, I finish with the two more below:
A quiet place.
‘It’s quiet here … so quiet
Standing on this hill
But if I stand here too much longer
My eyes with tears will fill
Looking down … I’m there again
On that beach … just down below
Far different … to that morning
That I remember so
That beach … it was a hell on earth
Where no man … should ever go
I was down there
I should know
Don’t cry now … dear old soldier’
A number of poems were written at the time. Here is one of them. Shades of ‘Dad’ Army’! and the confusion in so many English minds that British means English and of course to us so far away from that time perhaps over sentimental but…..