Wildflower seed mix has arrived!

On Wednesday morning it really felt as though winter, not autumn had come. Steady rain out of a uniformly grey sky, and a chill that tempted consideration of lighting the wood stove. And all this on the first day of the second Test, together with yet more words of doom as to an exit from the EU on the 31st of October. I try to be apolitical but as regards Brexit that is impossible. From where I am, I struggle to think of anything more stupid – economically, socially and constitutionally, but sadly on a complete par with the human nature that impels us to cut off our own nose to spite our own face.

Fortunately, the first two days of the week were dry if chilly. This meant moving the stock was not too uncomfortable a task. The movements were very much related to the work that needs to be done in connection with our Higher Tier Stewardship contract. The time is now come to complete work on the remaining seven fields. Before this is done it is necessary to reduce the current grass cover in those fields to a minimum, and that is a task for animals and to a lesser extent the use of the topper. 

Our contractor has been lined up, and on Thursday the remaining 450 kg of seed arrived. For two fields the sowing will only be of a wildflower mix at a very low rate of application. For the remaining five fields, seed will be sown at 15kg a hectare and the mix will include 82% native grass seed. All 450 kg will be of certified organic seed.

The week was soured to a degree by the death of another ewe, and significant mechanical problems which, together with the weather, prevented quite a lot of planned activities. The topper in particular is showing its age and had had to have further repairs made.  Happily, Tieran is on the case. We were all pleased at how good his A level results were, though not surprised he did so well.

The Land Rover remained operational, and our organic wool was safely taken to the collecting depot at Bromyard. Thank goodness the route takes one through very attractive scenery which makes the journey less of a chore.

With so many fields very shortly not being available, it is a great relief that the other fields have plentiful growth on them, and that the fields re-sown in phase one are clearly going to be fit to be grazed later on.

The other key part of the capital grant applies to putting in new fencing. Though the work is allowed to be done over two years, there is so much to do that we shall try to get another two or three kilometres completed this year.

Despite all the other pressures, as part of our attempt to discourage badgers, all the water troughs in the fields from which the animals were moved have been emptied and cleaned. Despite fencing off the areas identified as where the badgers move onto the farm, they seem quickly to have made new openings in the hedge – just as common sense suggested they would. As a cereal farmer, badgers are no more than a minor irritant, but for those of us stock farmers working in a TB hotspot, they are just bad news.

Problems come from disturbing the ground as seeds that have lain dormant for years are given the opportunity to spring into life. No problem perhaps for the conventional farmer, but for us a real issue, particularly in the fields that were left as ‘set aside’ and which we re-seeded.

Ragwort is a real problem this year, and without the efforts of Jack and Theo, could take over two fields. Thistles and ragwort are, it seems, under control in most of the other fields which were disturbed by our cultivation some years ago. However, two fields disturbed more recently, including that which was badly disturbed by the installation of the ground source heating system two years ago, are now badly affected. Topping eventually deals with thistles, but not ragwort, which has to be dug out while hopefully leaving no root fragments since such fragments can produce viable plants.

While some ‘weeds’ such as ragwort, hemlock and creeping thistle need to be eliminated, there are others that can be tolerated and even enjoyed – some are herbs, others just plants seen by human’s as a nuisance. Even the humble nettle has flowers. Sow thistles are in a class of their own, their flowers are magnificent, but if allowed to go to seed while fine in the hedgerows, are not good in the pasture – rather like corncockle which in the winter is a fine source of seeds for finches.

Nettles in flower
Scarlet Pimpernel

Serious concerns regarding Brexit

I vented my feelings about Brexit in the first paragraph, but our concerns are very real ones, whether we are talking about the farm or Ulula. For Ulula the situation is already challenging with the value of the pound against the euro edging towards parity. For the farm though, the drop in the value of the pound means that while our Basic Payment will be greater, we like every livestock farmer are faced with the prospect of tariffs which will mean our animals cannot be sold overseas.  Add to that the ignorance of climate campaigners urging consumers to turn away from red meat and eat more vegetables while ignoring all the evidence that pasture is far more useful as a sequester of carbon, while growing cereals and every other crop requires ever heavier use of herbicides, pesticides and diesel. Apologies you have probably heard too much from me about the matter to want to hear more!

This has not been a week for serious reading let alone thought. There is enough tension in the air, even when time is one’s own. Moreover, apparently simple tasks can easily burn up time. I am reading, but it is a novel set in the time of Robert Cecil. The book is both a challenge to one’s attention and to the stomach. The history and story ring true, but the heroine and hero are very much of our time. Religious fanaticism does of course hold centre stage.

An Edwardian gentleman

It is all too easy to think of Elgar as an elderly Edwardian gentleman, who essentially, we remember as a composer of symphonies and concertos for violin and cello. He was of course far more than that. He was associated with the Gramophone magazine for many tears and was an enthusiast for the development of recorded music. He also wrote great ‘light music’ which is at last becoming available on CD – well worth exploring.

Memories and ancestral links

Though I feel no attachment to London I do have firm ancestral links to the city. Like many country dwellers several sides of my family left the land or the sea to seek their fortune in London in the 1850’s. Some made it, and in due course moved out either to the suburbs or further afield. Those that didn’t ended in workhouses – sad but that was a normal pattern for many families.

One half of the family was settled near the docks in Hoxton, involved in rope making, chandlery and so on. A great aunt, my grandmother’s sister emigrated to Canada in 1919 as a wartime bride. A frequent visitor to England after the war when her husband had prospered – and a supplier of food parcels – she would not accept any criticism of the Isle of Dogs which, seen through her rose-tinted spectacles, was a respectable area. 

I have memories of the area both from the 1960’s and the 2000’s. In the 1960’s no one could have possibly seen it in that way. But over time, change comes, and Canary Wharf now sits where the docks existed that made the Isle of Dogs an actual island in the second half of the 1800’s.

In her memory but also of other ancestors, I have chosen just part of a ballad which was written by John Davidson, one of the early modernists and published in ‘The Last Ballad’ in 1899 

In the Isle of Dogs by John Davidson

While the water-wagon’s ringing showers
Sweetened the dust with a woodland smell.
‘Past noon, past noon, two sultry hours,’
Drowsily fell
From the schoolhouse clock
In the Isle of Dogs by Millwall Dock.

Mirrored in shadowy windrows draped
With ragged net of half-drawn blind
Bowsprit, masts, exactly draped
To woo or fight the wind,
Like monitors of guilt
By strength and beauty sent,
Disgraced the shameful houses built 
To furnish rent.

….An organ- man drew up and ground
The Old Hundredth tune.

Forthwith the pillar of cloud that hides the past
Burst into flame,
Whose alchemy transmitted house and mast,
By magic sound the Isle of Dogs became
A northern Isle –
A green Isle like a Beryl set
In a wine-coloured sea,
Shadowed by mountains where a river met
The ocean’s arm extended royalty…

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