First cuckoo of the year!

First cuckoo of the year!

Lady Smock

On Tuesday I was able, courtesy of Anne’s driving, to look more closely at parts of the farm, while on Thursday Chris took me to the parts I had not seen and it was on that outing I heard, what was for me, the first cuckoo of the year. 

Despite the rain last Saturday, the pastures are once again like rough concrete under foot, and this year are covered with stunted flowering dandelions. Although on the bulk of the farm it is the oak trees that are already in leaf and flower, there are parts of the farm where the ash trees are well ahead of the oak trees. Suddenly the long-term weather is looking more positive with the jet stream diving south of the UK so the ‘splash’ may be well worth having. Doing some research into why the two species rarely start into leaf at the same time I discovered that for one, spring growth is about temperature and for the other, sunlight.

As you know the farm is blessed both with free standing trees and in some places like the wood and spinney, trees growing close together. The free-standing trees in hedgerow or field achieve a perfection of form which is lovely to see especially at this time when the leaves are a quite different green from the colour they later adopt. One or two of the oak trees are actually in flower and are a delicious yellow- green colour.

Oak Flowers
Cow parsley

In most of our fields a combination of tall hedges and the odd free-standing tree provide shelter for animals particularly when the sun is too hot. Contractors, for obvious reasons, dislike trees outside hedge rows, but earlier in the week we planted the first in a number of trees to go in a field which has shade on only one side. Our grandchildren will hopefully enjoy it as a mature specimen.

Tree planting

The gardens are currently adorned by the apple trees being in full blossom. The grass remains green though, decorated by apple blossom despite the semi-arid conditions we once again face. The moorhens are especially active at the moment, darting across the grass at the first hint of danger. At least one of the visiting greater spotted woodpeckers seems to prefer attacking the post that holds the bird feeder rather than actually being interested in the seed. I wonder if, like me, you have fallen into the trap of thinking words like ‘greater’ when used to describe plants or birds are most deceptive. For those of you who do not have woodpeckers locally, the greater spotted woodpecker is no bigger than a slim blackbird. The green woodpecker, also a common visitor and the scourge of ants, is by far the largest woodpecker we have in this country. The lesser spotted woodpecker I have never seen. They are apparently no bigger than a sparrow

Our drive is no longer getting mown as early as in past years, and no doubt partly because of this the number of, and area covered by, Lady Smock is much greater. The downside of this change in mowing practice is the spread of cow parsley – strimming, before seed setting, is probably the only way to control its spread so that we can continue to support and encourage the Lady Smock.

There is little to report on our cattle other than that we had a female calf this week. They remain in the barn but will be turned out very soon. For the moment therefore our concerns are for the future and how to manage their movement around the fields over the coming months, particularly given the requirement that the fields included in the Higher Tier Countryside scheme must each be left ungrazed for six weeks between May and July.

Lambing appears to be going well with over 60% of the breeding flock having lambed. With Tim needing to respond to his mother’s needs we are fortunate to have Tieren’s help. Ewes that have not yet lambed, and those with newly born lambs are kept close to the barn while ewes with older lambs are now on field 4. 

Lambing this year may be unusual in that it is taking place in the fields, but what is even more unusual is the weather we are experiencing. My personal memories of lambing are of very cold nights interspersed with nights of cold driving rain but also, on the really cold nights, a star-studded sky with Orion impossible to miss. A memory that also holds are the sounds and strong smell of sheep!

Rosie and Boots are certainly having a novel education in that many days they join Chris when he checks how the lambing is going. Rising at 6 am is a challenge they often rise to, all in all in its own way a splendid education. In fact, this week both Tieran and Boots delivered their first lambs.

We are now down to 29 lambs from last year of which fourteen are scheduled to join the main flock after lambing. Usually the last of our lambs for sale go by the end of May so we are on track.

Field 8 after scarification has now had wildflower seed broadcast over the appropriate areas, hopefully to be trodden in by last year’s lambs who remain there. Jonathan, our contractor has been using his ancient tractors, with a special piece of gear on the back of each to do the different tasks. Both the scarifier and the broadcasting spinner he made himself. One tractor looked to me like a little grey Ferguson but in fact it was a Fordson Dexta . The other looks more modern. Both are low powered and cheap to use, and their owner loves them.

Canada, at least on the prairies, seems to have innumerable tractor museums.  Together with our elder children I trailed around a number of these in 1980 without any real impression being made. I now found myself exploring the difference between Ferguson and Fordson, reading of the failure by Ford to abide by a deal which cost them dear. Most important was discovering that it was Henry Ferguson who established the linkage which enabled the development of the modern tractor. An Irishman, he established his factory in Coventry, and in due course became Chairman of the Massey Ferguson group which still makes tractors and other agricultural machinery.

In self-defence, I admit to having little interest in machinery including cars and tractors. It was always a social problem when young that I was unable to contribute to discussions about cars, motor bikes and public houses. To each their own!

Despite the concrete like surface, work on replacing fencing continues. The field behind the house is short only of about 10 metres of netting. The field in which the ‘run off’ from floods is placed, and which was fenced on two sides some time ago, has now had the fences on the other two sides taken out so that work there hopefully will start next week. That field suffered badly from over grazing in the winter and very much needs chain harrowing to smooth out the slightly poached surface. What we do about the apparently totally dead area where the water lingered for so long is unclear.

We now have had confirmation that there will be no woofers from Lyon. It will therefore be a much quieter summer than usual. We will miss their company and interest in both the farm and our language as much as their physical contribution to the farm.

For those stargazers amongst you, I hope you had better luck than I had in looking out for the Lyrid meteor shower. With cloudless skies this week star watching was a real treat, but no meteor showers were seen. A real shame since for this year this cluster of meteors was predicted to be particularly noticeable.  More positively Venus has been particularly bright for days now as has the group known as Orion.

We have been successful in meteorite watching in the past. Staying once with friends on their small farm in the Presseli Hills, I and the children, lay on our backs on a flat bedded trailer and saw the most fabulous display. But that was of the Perseids which appear later in the year. An ancient neck injury means I cannot bend my head back the full extent but this year’s display was said to be fairly low on the horizon so that cannot be why I saw nothing.

Tentative indications have been received from the RPA that two of our claims which were held up inexplicably may actually now be paid. Their system has at least acknowledged that our claims for 2020 under both the Basic Payments Scheme and our annual revenue claim for higher tier have been received. Since they still haven’t paid for the 2019 claim it felt slightly surreal. The claims for 2020 have to be in by the end of May so just what happens in the intervening months is any bodies guess. 

Enclosures

So much to say and so little space in which to fit it but I will write something about ‘enclosures’ in the country. Many moons ago I referred to the fact that enclosure in this part of the country came very late. However, in some parts of the country the ‘stealing’ of common land began many centuries earlier and caused considerable social unrest. Henry VIII allowed laws against the practice to lapse in his later years and this added to the tensions in the country associated with concerns as to the succession. I think that in general we have a far too rose-tinted notion of life in England 600 years ago and I am not talking about matters such as the Black Death. The level of social unrest revealed itself in many rebellions, some minor, some serious. Indeed, it was not until the Kett lead uprising in East Anglia and its brutal suppression that relative peace persisted until the Civil War.

Stamps

I was asked to write a piece on stamp collecting for a local printing and at the time of writing felt that, as a hobby, it’s future was limited. I was therefore delighted to read recently that amongst ‘millennials’ there is a real growth in interest. I did of course have to ask who millennials were, but it good to have one’s vocabulary expanded.

Is America broken

A key question uppermost in many minds is what society will look like after a vaccine is found. The temptation to speculate I resist but do share with you that there are thinkers on the other side of the Atlantic who think America as we know it now, is completely broken. A long time ago I wrote about de Tocqueville’s reservations about what dangers lay in the American constitution and social attitudes. Sadly, he was almost too prescient.

In terms of the future we surely have to recognise that over outsourcing and privatisation must be resisted.  An even small knowledge of history surely shows that globalisation has as many problems attached to it, as positives. Politicians at all times and of all persuasions have struggled to get the balance right. At the end of the day, any government has, as its first duty, the responsibility to set this balance  carefully even at the risk of unpopularity and this should be equally the responsibility of any opposition; and the responsibility for opposition parties  is not simply about opposing but more importantly about the critical examination of governmental proposals.

 Spring by Gerard Manley Hopkins

Nothing is so beautiful as Spring –          
When weeds, in wheels, shoot long and lovely and lush;          
Thrush’s eggs look little low heavens, and thrush          
Through the echoing timber does so rinse and wring          
The ear, it strikes like lightnings to hear him sing; 
The glassy peartree leaves and blooms, they brush          
The descending blue; that blue is all in a rush          
With richness; the racing lambs too have fair their fling.          

What is all this juice and all this joy?          
A strain of the earth’s sweet being in the beginning 
In Eden garden. – Have, get, before it cloy,          
Before it cloud, Christ, lord, and sour with sinning,          
Innocent mind and Mayday in girl and boy,          
Most, O maid’s child, thy choice and worthy the winning.

And impossible to resist given the view from our sitting room window.

Apple Blossoms by Henry Adams Parker

Is there anything in Spring so fair 
As apple blossoms falling through the air? 

When from a hill there comes a sudden breeze 
That blows freshly through all the orchard trees. 

The petals drop in clouds of pink and white, 
Noiseless like snow and shining in the light. 

Making beautiful an old stone wall, 
Scattering a rich fragrance as they fall. 

There is nothing I know of to compare

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