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October - starting some new projects

The lovely weather we had in the early part of the month is becoming a distant memory with 6” of rain in the past week. However one benefit of the rain is that it has brought all the waxcaps and other fungi to life and they are popping up all over our old undisturbed meadows.

The big news this month is that our grant application to the Farming in Protected Landscapes Scheme was approved. This means we are able to crack on and start on the first phase of projects outlined in our previous post that we want to do to make the farmer a bit wilder and even more nature friendly. For us, this is a really good grant scheme as it offers flexibility to devise your own projects that match the local needs of wildlife rather than fit within a standard prescription.

As the early part of the month was so dry, I hired a digger to excavate some ponds and scrapes midway up the valley towards Headland Warren Farm. The increased areas of wetland this creates is good for wildlife – the shallow scrapes will initially attract snipe and such like, but as they revegetate over the next year or so, they will turn into bogs / rhos pasture which we’ll plant some devil’s bit scabious plugs into, in the hope of attracting marsh fritillary butterflies. Over a longer timescale, peat should also slowly build up. They are also good for ‘Natural Flood Management’ – slowing water down reduces peak flows and the amount of sediment getting into the river.

The video shows some of the work in progress, including the tricky job of laying down granite slabs to build a causeway so that animals and people can get across the new boggy area. I managed to get the bulk of the work done before the weather broke making the ground too soft to work without making a mess – but the first downpour was useful in seeing where it needed a few tweaks before the digger had to go back.

We also got the funding we asked for to plant isolated trees (thorns and rowans) up the valley to provide perches for cuckoos and shade for stock. For these we’ll be trying out the cactus tree guards as relatively unobtrusive way of protecting them from cattle and ponies. They’ve arrived (flat packed), and look like they’ll do the job as they’re super spiky, but once we’ve put them up we’ll let you know how we get on. Once our plans have been finalised, we will be applying to the scheme again (probably early next year) for the projects we’d like to undertake between 2022 and 2024.

Another highlight of the month was hosting the 21st birthday meeting of Ranger Ralph club. This is the National Park’s club for 7 – 12 year olds interested in nature and the outdoors. Despite the drizzle they had a great day, pond dipping, a farm walk, building nest boxes and trying their hand at smelting.

On the farming side of things, it’s the time of year when we wean this year’s lambs, so their mums are ready to go to the ram in mid November (this will mean they lamb from mid April to early May). The lambs have been moved into the field on the side of Hambledown as this means they will have free access over the winter to the stone barn where we can feed them hay, and they can shelter from the worst of the weather.

The cattle are currently out grazing in our hay fields, but the with the recent change to wet weather we will probably move them across to their winter quarters of the main barn and adjacent fields within the next week. Here they can be fed hay undercover and shelter inside if they want, whist still having free access to a couple of large fields. Next week they are being tested for bovine TB. This is done at least once a year, and although we haven’t had any ‘reactors’ for a decade or so, is always a worrying few days between their first ‘test’ when they are injected in the neck with bovine and avian tuberculin and the 2nd test, 3 days later when the vet checks them to see if the skin has swollen up which is a sign they’ve got TB – see you want to know more . You can only move cattle off the farm within 60 days of a ‘clear’ test, so assuming they pass (fingers crossed) we will then look at selling the larger young calves to other pasture fed or organic farmers on lower ground to grow on.

Following on from last month’s Greener World audits for being ‘Certified Grass fed’ and ‘Animal Welfare Approved’, we got confirmation that we passed our 1st year’s Organic growers accreditation – though as becoming certified Organic takes 2 years, it will be almost another year before our animals / meat can be sold as being Organic.

Looking ahead to November, we’ll be moving onto the daily routine of feeding and bedding up the cattle. Weather permitting we’ll be putting up the cactus tree guards and nest boxes and doing some hedgelaying. Naomi has the excitement and trepidation of presenting (virtually) at COP26 as part of her work for Natural England developing the England Peat Strategy. We also will hopefully see some of you at the talk by James Reebanks at Exeter University which looks like it will be fascinating and inspiring, as he’s done such a fantastic job in highlighting to farmers, politicians and the public, how farming can be a force for good.

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