I am very conscious that these notes are primarily written to ensure all interested parties are kept up to date about life on the farm. As such, if political comment is made, it is because the future of this farm and farming in general, is threatened, as is patently the situation we find ourselves in now.
I am of course referring to the Agricultural Bill which went before the Lords this week.
On Friday the 5th of June a letter was released signed by the two relevant Secretaries of State making it crystal clear that neither chlorinated chicken not hormone saturated beef would be allowed into this country.
Within twenty-four hours this position was repudiated by the Prime Minister’s Office.
The latest news is the suggestion that, as the Prime Minister’s ‘fiancee’ is an animal welfare activist, the PM has adjusted the stance to – yes, these products can be imported, but only at a high tariff.
And yet on the 11th of June a conservative MP writes that the governments are still committed to not allowing such imports.
How much less stressful our life would be if messages from the government were clear.
Saddened by the present situation, inevitably I wondered who the public and historians’ thought was the worst prime minister we have suffered under. Lord North seemed the obvious candidate, but I have some sympathy for the predicament he found himself in. Of the others, I supposed Alex Douglas-Home might figure, but in fact a name that never came into my mind was Anthony Eden! Well it is clear that now we have a challenger for that position. And, bearing in mind the lies told about arrangements for Northern Ireland, and the total ‘waffle’ of this week’s PMQ’s, we have the most mendacious Prime Minister of my lifetime.
With all that out of the way, I am able to report that in almost all respects this has been a good week on the farm. The ‘only fly in the ointment’ so to speak has been the reappearance of ‘New Forest Eye’ amongst our young stock. In all other respects both sheep, lambs and cattle seem well and contented. As stated before, in accordance with out HLS agreement, and our wish to make best use of the pastures, animals never stay long on any particular field. All this is made easier by the new fencing and gating of fields which has ended the previous position that groups of fields were occupied at the same time. So it was that the flock and the young stock were moved at the weekend.
One of the more amusing sights was a young heifer standing within the children’s swing frame that sits just inside the field by the house. She appeared to be consciously enjoying the experience of making the swing move; and their enjoyment of the compost, sitting in the field waiting to be brought to the garden, was great fun to watch.
A big event on Friday was the shearing of the ewes in the barn, and so on Thursday evening the family were out with Milly driving the flock across two fields into the barn. The lambs are not normally sheared as the amount of wool that would be obtained is not worth the effort. That might not be the case where some breeds are concerned, but Lleyn sheep are certainly not bred primarily for their wool. In writing this I am very conscious that two years ago we agreed we needed a new ram and still have to act in that decision – the key reasons for the inaction were partly financial but also uncertainty what breed of ram to go for.
Happily, the drought has somewhat lifted, and though we watched the rain clouds gather around us, we did not have the substantial rain forecast upon us – but we did have some. Fears that we might be about to have that combination of warm humid weather which can encourage fly strike have receded.
The fact that Rosie and Boots will not be returning to school before September seems not to be troubling them. As you can imagine there is plenty they can do on the farm and in the gardens. Both seem very happy at the thought of a farming life in the future. Both have fathers whose practical skills are being passed on. I find it particularly interesting since when our children were that age, even if I had had the skills, my time with the children was sadly limited in comparison to that all our five grandchildren get from their parents.
You may remember under the contract a number of fields have been reseeded, and for these fields between mid-May and the end of July there must be a continuous period of six weeks when they are not grazed. This is to allow wildflowers to set seed. Nor are we allowed to cut for hay or haylage before the 30th June. Managing this is not simple but thank heavens, our Natural England advised us to keep a number of fields out of the scheme.
While Martin is still on site from time to time, among the various tidying jobs he has done is to make the compost heaps ready for the insertion of BD preps. Additionally fencing continues as and when time allows. The field behind the house is now stock proof and there are now a number of fields ready for fencing. In the Ram’s field years and years of brambles were cut away by our two volunteers to reveal the fence line. While they were working the rams took rather too much notice and Sacha found one of them rather aggressive, but that problem was easily solved. As a supplement to their diet all leaves were quickly eaten by the rams, and if they briefly got entangled all were strong enough to free themselves.
Sacha and Romain left us on Wednesday much to our regret. A very untypical farewell, no hugs or kisses and subsequent tears – this ‘bug’ has much to answer for. They left us to go to a placement in Monmouth. Let’s hope that goes well for them.
In the vegetable garden, while the raspberries and loganberries are a long way from being ready to eat, we have enjoyed some excellent strawberries – there is no doubt sunshine and warmth plays a major part in determining size and sweetness. Otherwise the broad beans are starting to form pods, and the black fly have arrived. Hopefully, with so many fledglings to feed, nature will limit their spread.
In the flower garden we are in an in between period when blooms of some plants are fading and having to be cut off while others like aquilegia, valerian, perennial sweet peas and poppies now show a mixture of flowers and seed heads. Aside from the roses and clematis, many plants and bushes are merely showing what will eventually be berries.
Speaking as a very amateur naturalist, it has been a good week. The field adjacent to the house has seen meadow brown butterflies in profusion. For the first time this year I have both heard and seen one of the pair of ravens based at Feckenham Moor. Even more exciting, on one dog walk I heard a nightjar. In Zambia these were commonly seen and heard – indeed they were a real hazard as they had the habit of roosting on the warm laterite roads after nightfall and hitting one was fatal for the bird and damaging to the car. ‘Blacking up’ is a major point of contention at the moment but ‘whitening up’ was common practice in rural Zambia in dances to depict colonial officers and missionaries. There is of course no comparison between the two because it was on their part essentially good humoured, and we certainly had no cause to feel oppressed – but then we lived ‘in the bush’ where skin colour was not the issue it was, for example, on the Copperbelt.
While most wildflowers have reached the seed setting stage, there are still some to be seen. Apart from the red campion and cow parsley, agrimony and potentilla are showing in the verges of the drive. There is also plenty of white clover to be seen in the fields as well as some red clover.
While the hedges and trees are long past their flowering period, nonetheless, if time is given to observation it is not only an architectural effect that one becomes aware of, but also just what a range of colours are called green! and what a variety of birds can be heard and seen.
We actually heard from the RPA this week suggesting some slight movement through the appeal process. This email was shared with our MP who immediately made contact with the relevant member of the hierarchy expressing her concern that so far ten months has passed since the process started.
Those of you who listen to Radio 4 on Sunday morning will have enjoyed Howard Jacobsen. In his 15-minute slot he first expressed his enjoyment of not having to leave his flat – I confess I was rather in agreement with him. In the second part he drew very apposite comparisons between our life at the present and the world as described by Charles Dickens in ‘Little Dorrit’. The parallel he drew between the “Circumlocution Office” and today’s government fitted the RPS like a glove. That office, you may remember, has a great expertise in not doing anything, and so doing very slowly.
I have referred before to a half hour programme on radio 4 which explores statistical claims and their validity. As one who at one time was very involved in the use of statistics it still makes me groan when I see the way data is presented. Citizenship in schools should ensure every child has the understanding to spot the misuse of statistics; the importance of sample size, the clarity of the numbering on the axis in graphical presentations, the use of percentages without background data.
Statistics are an enormously important tool but equally dangerous when used either naively or tactically. One figure currently making the rounds is that 75% of men who have had coronavirus were either bald or nearly so; do we give this the same significance we give figures which show those aged over 90 are most at risk?
A quote I feel I have to share is this: ‘another example of over-specialised scientists looking at a single issue and leaping to the wrong conclusion’ (I break to insert that this is a view openly expressed about reaction to coronavirus) ‘This seems to be why we multi-tasking, multi-skilled farmers who see everything linked, can contribute positively to the debate‘.
Enough – despite so much nonsense that seems to surround us, here at Rush Farm life goes on and our aims and objectives continue to be our collective driving force.
For me given my excitement earlier in the week I have turned to the poem below. In truth the choice was slight since most seem tied to death. I hope you enjoy what follows
Nightjar by Arthur YapHere, in the night, trees sink deeply downward.
the sound of moonlight walking on black grass
magnifies the clear hard calls of a nightjar,
its soliloquy of ordered savagery, little intervals.
time, clinging on the wrist, ticks it by
but eyes, glued to the dark pages of night,
could not scan the source on the branch.
its insistent calls jab & jab so many times
to a silent ictus, so many times, ringing off the branch
in tiny sharp tuks, each lifting from the last
through the night. while the shadows of the trees
go past the edge of sleep & i sit awake,
if it’s footfalls across the road, they should be
far away. sounding on the trees, an euphony
lodged on high, the starlit side of heaven.