Taking soil samples for Higher Tier Stewardship Scheme

Taking soil samples for Higher Tier Stewardship Scheme

As Milly stole the show last week in the shared photograph of her after her having helped work the sheep, this week you find her entirely happily – despite the long suffering look – being buried in straw by the grandchildren. We all share the relief that she is maturing – no longer quite the rebel she was when she was a puppy, and is a very good ‘friend’ to the children.

Before we started farming the weather forecast had a quite different significance be it in Canada in winter when temperatures were so low that safety was a life or death issue, or as parents of young children holidaying at the seaside or sailing in our dinghy; but now every day the forecast is the one news item not to be missed. From this I am sure you have guessed we are starting to agonise how the rain keeps missing us!

This week’s key task was to take core samples from each of the fields that we thought might be entered for the new higher tier stewardship scheme. Twenty-five samples from each field all to be mixed up together to allow for a kilogram to be sent for analysis – a thankless task for even someone without hay fever! Fortunately, only a minority of fields had dried out into concrete, but what was clear was that rain was needed.

Rather typically, in this week particularly, the pasture-fed website has been buzzing with very divided views on the value of such soil samples and what if anything can be learnt from them after laboratories have done their thing!

On Thursday we were very happy to be visited by a friendly face from the past who had come to talk us through our Stewardship plans and ensure we knew exactly what we might be signing up to – all very interesting and helpful. Afterwards I had a real adventure – using the Land Rover, to protect my back, we visited every field on the farm – not just to update our previous advisor on how the farm had progressed, but more importantly, to enable her to see what the flora of each field was now.

Though only three fields really excited her, we learnt a great deal – not least because of the enthusiasm she brought to the expedition. In passing let me confirm I did actually do some walking and almost as exciting was coming across a roe deer which allowed us to get surprisingly close.

At the end of the process we determined to go ahead with ten and not eleven fields and, had a list of tasks that had to be carried out before submission of the final plan before the end of July. The tasks include taking many photographs of hedgerows and fences, together with going out with a measuring wheel to ensure the various lengths we might claim for are spot on!

Our contribution to the scheme, if all goes well, is to radically change the nature of our pastures from fairly conventional, into wild flower rich, but also productive grassland. Achieving both requires a massive amount of cultivation, a period when grazing may be tight, and then grazing patterns that will allow wild flowers to both flower and seed. Challenging without doubt but action that should enhance even further this small area of Worcestershire.

All the above did not mean practical activity on the farm ceased! All the haylage bales have been collected from the fields and are now stored by the barn and crow damage was less than usual. Moreover, the final count was four bales more than first thought – 126.

Work continued on emptying the barn – the amount coming out is very considerable even though the barn had been half emptied at Christmas. With only the one tractor the time taken to do this work is frightening. Nonetheless Tim also managed to top two more fields.

On Monday the new calf was tagged and reported to the Cattle Movement Authority. Once we get the passport, a pedigree certificate will be acquired. The cattle have been on field 8 for two weeks now and though they certainly seem very contented they will have to move next week. The young stock we are cycling through three adjacent fields on a more or less weekly basis but probably can stay where they are for several more days.

For the sheep, shearing hopefully will take place on Tuesday, and given that there is some scald (sore feet) showing, all will be put through a foot bath afterwards, and then put onto the field by the barn which has grown well since cutting. Looking at them on Thursday left us feeling, and of course hyperbole must be avoided, pretty content with growth and condition, and reminded that fairly soon we should start weighing the lambs. The ‘orphanage’ will be ended next week. Of its nine members, all but two look good. Inevitably it seems, aside from odd ‘freaks of nature’, there are a couple of tiny lambs fine in all respects except size.

As I write this, ‘record review’ plays in the background. Since most of the detailed reviews go straight over my head, it is the actual music that I tune into with half an ear cocked for a piece that is new to me. Last night I had two discs of Louise Ferrenc on the CD player, bought as a result of hearing her music for the first time a week or so ago on this very same program. Earlier this morning I heard the music of W F Bach for the first time and really enjoyed his cantatas – yet another temptation.

In passing I hope all noticed the success of the English women’s cricket team – the men after a disastrous winter in Australia seem to be now attempting to imitate them.

I believe I have referred in unflattering terms of the recent remapping of the farm. Entirely accidentally I caught part of the Environment, Food and Rural affairs select committee on BBC Parliament. The issue of remapping arose, and Mr Gove defended the activity as part of a recent EU requirement. This was not challenged, but what was challenged was the incompetence of those who carried out the activity!

One example which we ourselves experienced was similar to that of an MP who after remapping had 4 fields where in reality only one existed, and expressed fairly forcibly his doubts about the competency of those interpreting the aerial information. Mr Gove frankly did little more than shuffle uncomfortably in his seat and dodge the matter!

I did of course write to the Chairman, and we have been invited to make submissions to future meetings.

Psychology in most of its aspects was very much a part of my professional and personal life. Two areas in particular I came back to time and again; These were thinking and memory. At a professional level how to help students and colleagues improve their memories was something I considered vital.

Aside from understanding that before writing and printing, oral memory was everything, I was aware that the Greeks, and the name that comes to mind was Simonides, and later the Romans – Robert Harris’s three part ‘biology’ emphasises the role of Cicero as one who saw the teaching of memorising as a central technique. What use was rhetoric if you had to rely on notes! Some thirty years ago we read with great interest two books by the historian Francis Yates, one was “The art of memory” and the other was about Giordano Bruno. The latter met a very nasty end but was an interesting enough character for the novelist S J Parris to use him as the central character in an ongoing series of books.

The importance of memory seems to have gradually declined in modern times. Open book examinations hardly encourage serious attention to memory. Knowing where to find the information or who to ask, now seems the accepted way forward and both short and long-term memory no longer to be valued.

While I feel this a retrograde step, I have to confess I have never known how to revise or how to fix things in my memory but somehow my memory was a key strength. None of the memory techniques advocated ever helped me – it either did or did not, ‘go in’ I survived in my youth in having what I believe is not uncommon in young people and probably wrongly was called a ‘photographic memory’ but this faded, as is also, I gather, quite normal.

What I do believe is that memory is like any muscle – it needs to be used. So… I still, normally every evening, review and evaluate the events of the day just over. It irks me massively when l ‘lose’ a word, and this does happen more than it did forty years ago, but the key is to relax and hey presto the word comes back!

Some years ago, we read the ‘Discovery of France’ by Graham Robb. Having enjoyed this book very much we lashed out and bought his book entitled ‘The Ancient Paths’. I came across it the other day and found in it, not many pages in, a scrap of old newspaper marking where I had got to. Obviously, it had not caught my imagination, so I decided to give it a second go.

Sadly, I fairly quickly understood why I had not finished it. It was not because I am resistant to his emphasis on the Celts since his definition of who they were makes sense, but rather his speculation based on ideas about Druidism. I have a vivid enough imagination, but I do need to feel there is some solid basis for my thinking and I just wasn’t able to ‘buy into’ his ideas. I have read much worse books from ‘New Age’ believers but still…

On the other hand, if you can suspend doubts, the book is indeed very readable – but not for me.

Fascinating how one stumbles across information which completely overturns firmly held beliefs. I had always seen Halloween as an American import of fairly recent origin and then in my reading I came across information which makes clear that historically it used to be turnips that were hollowed out and that the practice was ancient! I knew All Saints Day, which is celebrated the day after, was related to a pagan tradition, but had no idea that ‘hollowed out roots with a lit coal inside them’ was from pre-Christian times!

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