It’s now the start of March and hopefully Spring is well on its way. With the obvious exception of the storms, so far Winter has been mild on Dartmoor. Frogs were laying eggs in mid-January and their bet of starting early and not being frosted off, or washed away seems to have paid off. We’re still a few weeks behind the lowlands, but the grass is starting to grow, and in sheltered spots one of our first spring flowers, the marsh marigold has come out.
Whilst we didn’t get as hit as hard as some by the storms, unfortunately we lost some trees and a few roof tiles. The largest were two lovely mature sycamore trees either side of the road leading to Widecombe. The first came down in the Christmas storms, and the other was taken out by Storm Eunice. We managed however to get a partial success in up righting an old birch tree that had been blown over. By cutting the top off, and then jacking up the stem, we managed to get it past the point of balance so its root plate went back into place. Hopefully it has enough roots to survive, but if not it will make for good standing deadwood.
Our livestock are doing well. Unless it is raining our cows spend most of their time out in the fields but come into the barns to eat the hay we harvested last summer or to get out of the weather. The ewes stay out in the fields on the house side of the road. They have a huge area to roam across, and will move to whichever side of Challacombe Down is most sheltered or has the tastiest grazing. The lambs who were born last Spring aren’t yet fully grown, so they’ve spent the Winter in the fields on the side of Hameldown with free access in and out of our stone barn, where they’ve also being fed hay. We’ve still plenty of hay left, so anticipate continuing to feed the cattle and last year’s lamb until at least mid-April by when the grass should be growing well, and the ewes will be starting to lamb. Until a couple of weeks ago we also had a about a dozen Dartmoor ponies on loan from a friend, and they have been conservation grazing our rhos pastures. Being light they can get into the wetter areas and graze off the coarse purple moor grass and scrub seedlings that could otherwise suppress the orchids and other flowers.
On the conservation front, with the help of the Tavistock Taskforce over the Winter I’ve been laying about 300 metres of the gappiest hedges around the hay fields. This will rejuvenate them and thicken them up. We also replaced all our birdboxes. The old ones were starting to come apart, and many of the holes had been enlarged by woodpeckers, so the new ones have all got protective plates around the holes.
Alongside the day to day farming, I’ve been helping on a project to create the Tamara Coast to Coast walk which will roughly follow the river Tamar and Devon / Cornwall boundary from Plymouth to Marsland Mouth on the north coast. As well as being a stand-alone 7-day walking trail, the Tamara C2C will in conjunction with the South West Coast Path create a walking trail around the whole of Cornwall to be called ‘Kylgh Kernow’ (Cornish for Circuit of Cornwall). This is a project I started working on several years ago, when I managed the South West Coast Path, and so now that funding for it has been s
ecured from the Heritage Lottery Fund, it’s exciting to help bring to fruition. You can find out more about it at
https://tamaralandscapepartnership.org.uk/tamara-coast-to-coast-walk/ and all being well it will be opened in Spring 2023.
If you would like to find out more about the farm, pick up a copy of Dartmoor magazine. The latest issue has the second of a series of articles about the farm, along with my thoughts of what the future could hold for farming on Dartmoor and how farmers can help make it wilder and richer in nature. You may also recognise the view on the cover.