The migrant birds are arriving!

A feeling of uncertainty hangs over our heads. The likeliest cause is probably the coronavirus, and the increasing feel that the sword of Damocles is ever closer as well as the social and economic consequences that may hang from it.  We are thinking of all our Woofer friends across the world and hoping that they and their families are able to keep themselves safe. 

Probably it is also the slight trepidation I feel as to how the farm survives under, not only Higher Tier Stewardship, but also the political uncertainty as to the role of farming in the future.

Additionally after days at looking at the farm through the lens of a Soil Association inspection, it will be good to be back thinking of the present and future rather than the past. In fact the inspection has been postponed – there is a general feeling of reluctance on all sides to put others at risk. Having got this far with the paperwork I intend to complete it because however uncomfortable the exercise may be it does have an evaluative value to us.

So what conclusions, if any, can I draw from this review of the past year. Little that I have not shared with you before! The positives are obvious: the health of our animals, the fact that markets are becoming a little easier to find, our survival through a long period of dreadful weather, and as important, maintaining our morale. What we need now is a resolution of our financial dispute with the RPA, and weather which allows the pastures to firm up and grow so that the cattle can be let out, there to be new grass for the lambing period, the remaining four fields drilled, and us all to survive the consequences of this new bug.

At last the migrating birds are arriving and the world, even when the sun does not shine, is more green than grey-brown. The clouds also are more white and puffy than we have seen for ages and that is good to see.

The ‘on the ground’ news from the farm is that additional bedding straw has arrived, and a source of additional organic haylage has been found. The pastures are drier but we know for the drilling of the four fields we shall be competing for the time of contractors who are faced with a huge backlog of work. Additionally, some pastures took a terrible hammering over the last few months and may need remedial work. There is a vast amount of fencing to do, well-rotted compost to be spread, lambing to be worked through, and we somehow come up with a cunning plan to allow all the reseeded fields six week ungrazed during the period May to July. Enough, there is only so much a simple farmers mind can take!

Work on the business park phase one is now finished, but while we had Martin and his digger still on site we persuaded him to create a ditch to drain the by now seemingly permanent lake in the gallop. So for the moment the bridle path has its own mini ford as you can see from the photos.

As regards our position with the RPA there are tentative signs of movement leaving us with at least a flicker of hope.

We have enjoyed two birthday celebrations this week together with the excellent birthday cake that accompanied them. One was a daughter the other for Ulula whose establishment and success has ensured an income for members of the family and the continuation of the farm. We are not of course entirely alone financially, there is government support and to a smaller extent support from the SCBS. 

Sunfield School

Changing tack substantially, two items of news I very much enjoyed. Sunfield School and Children’s home saw light therapy as a very important adjunct to other therapies they developed such as music. This later work achieved international recognition. So it was that when painting the interiors of living accommodation close attention was given to which colours should be used. It now appears that in addition to affecting mood, the colour of light has healing qualities. Not perhaps so farfetched when you think tainted water in a sealed plastic bottle exposed to sunlight for 6 hours becomes safe to drink

Healing qualities

There has also been evidence to show that another practice adopted in earlier civilisations was not as daft as had been believed. Every sheep farmer knows how vital it is for sheep to ingest enough copper, but that too much can kill.

From at least the Bronze Age onwards, the healing qualities of copper and its alloys were known and used but since there was no scientific evidence until recently it, this belief was not accepted. The evidence now exists, and we now know that copper has even greater health protection properties than silver when applied externally. The copper bracelet is not a waste of time. Indeed we would all do better if copper or copper compounds replaced other metals in fixtures like door handles and grab rails – hospitals in France are currently doing just this. 

Closer to home, it reminded me of the time when it was decided that wood was less hygienic than plastic or stainless steel in kitchens and school domestic science rooms. It did not take many years before it dawned on people that plastic was in fact less hygienic than wood as wood has anti-bacterial qualities – though some woods may have more of these properties than others. We also now know that our bright shiny stainless steel not only has no anti-bacterial or fungal powers but is so pitted a surface as to be as difficult as plastic to keep germ free.

Meat and methane

The lack of impartiality of both research and its interpretation was recently shown when the Quorn company and the BBC had to retract and apologise for claiming red meat was disastrous for the planet. The media machine also has yet to catch up with the work being done on methane and biochar. The latest edition of the Soil Association newsletter is well worth reading to learn more about these.

Methane you will remember was claimed to be largely significantly produced by ruminants. This notion has now been debunked – though intensive stock rearing does have some negative impact. Now much more is known about methane, its types, its production and its capture. All this has come about because, at last, the soil and in particular what lives in it, is being properly studied. Also, uncomfortably for agri-Business, it now seems clear that in addition to carbon leakage when soil is left bare, tillage is equally as bad for the soil and its inhabitants as it is for carbon release.

Thoughts on a journey and architecture

Anne and I made one of our semi regular trips to Bromyard during the week and as the passenger I could both enjoy the scenery, and also actively register how in less than 20 miles we passed through three different types of soil, and to a degree related to that, three micro climates. I had time and interest also to notice that in that short journey we passed churches ranging in age from the early English period to the 19th century. All except the latter showing numerous works over the intervening centuries before that great age of Victorian church restoration. 

Easy to complain of the damage the Victorians did but without doubt we would have far fewer splendid buildings but for their efforts. Indeed closer to home Worcester cathedral might well not still exist given the state of dilapidation it was in by the middle of the 19th century, despite a number of efforts to repair damage done in the Civil War. The truth is, even stone – unless perhaps granite – like brick wears with age though perhaps a real problem was a falloff in faith. There may not be much faith nowadays but at least these buildings are cherished as great monuments both to God and the men who designed and built them. 

The presence of spires is usually associated with wealth. Hereabouts a modest tower is most commonly seen, and few imposed themselves on the landscape other than to the cathedral itself. An exception has to be made for the church at Upton Snodsbury. Apparently parts of the church date back before the Normans but you would be hard pressed to spot that from the road. It stands out not only because of its location but the mix of whitewash and brick decorating it’s rather squat tower.

Aside from the very real signs of spring in the hedgerows including ‘bread and cheese’, or if you prefer, hawthorn shoots, the worst feature of the journey, aside from the desecration of the green belt round Worcester, has to be the state of the tarmac in Bromyard. The count of potholes per 10 yards was absurdly high.


At a personal level I have sought refuge in Cesar Franck and since I invested in a collection of most of his works some time ago, have been listening to music unfamiliar to me since it does not normally figure in concert programmes. Perhaps aptly, I have wallowed in the music of Franck’s tone – poem Redemption played rather loudly. Somehow it felt right for today’s zeitgeist and thinking that’s been in my mind for some time on the role of guilt both at the individual and societal level. Incidentally, I read with amusement that when communism was strong in Italy, the Santa Cecilia orchestra members refused to play it!

Arising out of something I wrote last week I have been thinking about the concept of ‘guilt’ – a feeling inescapable for all but a minority of us. Guilt and shame are feelings well used to motivate behaviour. Though these are forces capable of doing great damage. Skinner showed many years ago with his experiments on the effects of punishment that there is no sure way of predicting outcomes from the use of devices such as these. The Roman Catholic Church had a better understanding of this in that confession was open to all and might for some ease guilt feelings. 

Those of us in the northern hemisphere have no such way out, and it seems that the English in particular rather relish dressing themselves in sack cloth and ashes. From apologising to the person who has walked into one, to apologising for our colonial past, are we perhaps indulging in our sense of exceptionalism or superiority? Do we get some unhealthy buzz from wringing our hands over our past, or is it simply a swing of the pendulum from the attitude of the likes of Rhodes. Whatever, anything which encourages a person or group to foster a victim mentality is surely, as Stephen Potter would say ‘a bad thing.’

Having a new anthology of poetry, it seems fitting that I should choose a poem from it. Furthermore since it was International Women’s Day last Sunday I decided to go for a piece of poetry by Emily Dickinson. I confess I was anxious not to light on something too bleak given the general state of morale so I have ignored her best known poems – which seem to be about death, for one I had never read before – a vision of something I personally have never seen, ‘the northern lights’

Of Bronze—and Blaze—
The North—tonight—
So adequate—it forms—
So preconcerted with itself—
So distant—to alarms—
An Unconcern so so sovereign—
To Universe, or me—
Infects my spirit

With Taints of Majesty—
Till I take vaster attitudes—
And strut upon my stem—-
Disdaining Men and Oxygens,
For Arrogance of them—

My Splendours, are Menagerie—
But their Completeless Show
Will entertain the Centuries
When I, am long ago,
An Island in dishonoured Grass—
Whom none but Daisies, know

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