Category Archives: Farming

Fictional countryside

Interesting article by Jonathan Meades in The Guardian.

No longer a place of work, the English countryside has been tidied up and made picturesque, based on a mythical rural idyll…Read

Reminds me of DH Auden comment in the 1940s on the Lake District.

“Am I to see in the Lake District, then….Another bourgeois invention like the piano?”

Urban bee project

The Co-op is further expanding its Plan Bee campaign by providing aspiring urban bee-keepers with free training and equipment. Life in the city can be better for bees than in the countryside, points out Chris Shearlock, the Co-op’s Environment Manager:

They can find flowers in city parks and gardens, and they are away from some of the pesticides that are threatening them on farmland. It’s a misconception to think that they won’t thrive in cities and towns. I’ve heard of honey being sold from apiaries around King’s Cross station in London.

In the end, what’s going to save the British honeybee, whose population has dropped sharply in the last 25 years, is its value to the economy: as fruit-tree pollinators and annual producers of 5,000 tonnes of honey, they’re worth 165m a year. Independent

Children’s farms in the lambing season

A trip to a children’s farm is a great idea in the lambing season.  The Guardian has a list of recommended places in their half-term holiday special, including Cannon Hall Farm in Barnsley, where they are expecting no less than 300 lambs and 50 piglets to be born in February, with more expected for Easter.  They have other attractions such a baby Alpaca called Snowy.

Allotment fever

With more and more people wanting to grow their own fruit and vegetables, the National Society of Allotment and Leisure Gardeners have over 100,000 people on their waiting lists.  The National Trust have responded to this demand by allocating land for “super allotments” or community farms.  In return for a monthly fee, members will decide what should be grown, and have the opportunity to work on the farms, receiving a share of the produce.  Daily Telegraph

Huge flock of corn buntings

Farmer Steve Bumstead has always considered wildlife when managing his farm, leaving aside field margins and not ploughing until after Christmas so birds can forage among the stubble.  He’s been rewarded this winter by an unprecedented number of corn buntings flocking on his land – no less than 700, which has been estimated as 4% of the entire corn bunting population in the UK. The unusual size of the flock is thought to be a consequence of the recent prolonged freezing weather.

The corn bunting has been in sharp decline as a consequence of modern farming practices, so conservation researchers will be investigating Steve’s Bedfordshire farm to try and learn exactly why it is so attractive for them.  RSPB Photo by Steve Round

Animal welfare during cold spell

Defra has released this advice on caring for farm animals and pets during the cold weather, including this note for horse and pet owners:

Where pets (such as rabbits and guinea pigs) are normally kept outside in hutches during mild winters, eowners should consider moving them into garages / sheds to provide additional thermal insulation. Where cages cannot be moved additional protection or insulation should be provided wherever possible.

It is also important to ensure a supply of drinking water. Ice should be cleared from drinking water containers and the spouts should be defrosted regularly.

As with farmed livestock, horses and ponies usually kept outside during the winter should have access to shelter at all times and a regular provision of feed and water ensured. Where such provision is inadequate, owners should consider moving the animals and/or permanently stabling in the interim period Water supplies for all horses and ponies should be checked regularly and alternatives sources supplied if mains failure occurs.

In an emergency you should contact the RSPCA for help and advice. Read their advice on animals in the cold spell here.

Sales of honey drop

Sales of honey have dropped for the first time in six years, as British bee colonies continued to decline due to colony collapse disorder and bad weather. Figures from the British Beekeepers Association revealed that nearly a third of hives failed to survive the winter of 2007 while a fifth of the UK’s colonies were lost in 2008. This has forced prices up by almost 18 per cent which has led to a fall in of some 5.4 per cent. The Daily Telegraph

I had some rather nice sweet and sticky urban honey the other day produced by a beekeeper from Stockport. The recent massive growth of interest in amateur urban beekeeping is a positive counterpoint to the general gloom besetting the industry. More on urban beehives.

Urban chickens

It’s perfectly easy to keep chickens in the city, as this video in the Guardian shows.  As well as providing a fresh supply of free range eggs, they also make nice pets for children and eventually, when their laying capacity drops, dinner.  The family in the video, who live in East London, invested in an Eglu, a highly practical plastic hen house, designed for easy cleaning and egg collecting.  After this initial outlay, keeping chickens is a low-cost activity, as their diet can be augmented by scraps like stale bread and apple cores. If you let them forage in the garden, they’ll also eat slugs.

But there’s one thing to watch out for: now that foxes have moved to town, the chickens should be well cooped up at night.

Herding ducks with the Quack Pack

Meirion Owen is an expert sheep dog handler, who’s been working with Border Collies since he was nine. He now travels around Britain, showing the skills of this intelligent breed at fairs, private parties and, increasingly, corporate days out. The other stars of the Quack Pack are a troop of Indian Runner ducks, who love to charge around at a fast pace in a tight group (with the occasional lone rebel). First of all, Owen gives a demonstration of how it’s done, instructing his dogs with only four commands to herd the ducks through an obstacle course. Then the spectators have a go.

“We never try to embarrass anyone,” he says. “I’ll always try to help. With duck herding, there is a sense of the unexpected and seeing a manager lose control of his ducks is great entertainment for the staff.”

A recent tendency among lowland livestock farmers is to replace Border Collies with quads, and Owen would like to turn this around by promoting the many qualities of this breed.  More information

Urban shepherds

Urban shepherds in Brighton

I rather liked this story in The Guardian of a scheme in Brighton to bring sheep in from the countryside to graze council lawns and thereby save on grass cutting. Volunteers have flocked to sign up to be shepherds (or lookerers to use their term). It seems to me the social benefits of being in close contact with animals are far more than the few thousand pounds also saved, especially in terms of the education of children. Read more

Soay sheep fight bracken

A flock of sheep has been drafted in to try and stop the spread of bracken at Pow Hill Country Park on the Northumberland and County Durham border. Bracken is poisonous to local breeds but Soay sheep, descendants of a feral population on the Scottish island of Soay, are immune and nibble away at the base of the plant. Bracken is spreading across these moors and killing rare plants such as bog asphodel, lesser skullcap, and marsh violets. BBC

See also the superbly titled Soays get crackin’ on the bracken (above photo)

The Swaledale sheep that are native to the hills and farms of the North Pennines steer clear of bracken – but the small flock of Soays that has been drafted in to wage the war against the fiendish fronds just love to feed on the bracken’s stalks.

Sugar beet and the Pink-footed Geese

At first light, the sound of huge flocks of honking Pink-footed Geese fills the north Norfolk sky as they fly in from their roosts on the Wash. Back in the 1960s, wintering Pink-foots in the UK numbered about 50,000. Nowadays there are over 200,000 and about half of them are found in Norfolk. Continue reading Sugar beet and the Pink-footed Geese

Vanishing hedgerows

Until about 20 years ago, farmers could obtain government grants to remove hedgerows from their land. In these more enlightened times, grants are now given to maintain them. Yet despite this, a survey has found that 16,000 miles of managed hedgerows disappeared between 1998 and 2007.

The English Hedgerow Trust on the importance of hedgerows:

Hedges are complex ecosystems, and are essential habitats for a wide range of flora and fauna; 21 out of 28 lowland mammal, 69 out of 91 bird and 23 out of 54 butterfly species breed in hedges. In countryside with little or no woodland they are essential for the survival of many bird species. They provide valuable sheltered routes along which wildlife can move more freely across the country between fragmented woodlands, function as screens against bad weather, provide cover for game, contain and shelter stock and crops, act as windbreaks and help control soil erosion.

The English Hedgerow Trust is dedicated to planting and regenerating hedgerows, and need donations and volunteers for their local conservation groups. The photograph shows a newly laid hedge in Home Farm, Bentworth, Hampshire

The UK’s most wildlife friendly farmer

This year’s UK’s most wildlife friendly farmer has been named after a public poll organised by the RSPB. His name is Michael Calvert and he’s from Northern Ireland. He won thanks to his work on promoting wildlife on his farm, home to a vibrant range of birds, insects, mammals and plants including barn owls, bullfinches, smooth newts, Irish stoats and orchids. RSPB

Killer cows

British farmers and the Ramblers Association warned yesterday of the potential dangers posed by cows after a spate of attacks which have seen four people trampled to death by in just over eight weeks this summer.  The high figures are unusual: in the past eight years there have only been 18 deaths in total caused by cattle of all kinds – including bulls. The Independent

See also  Are cows dangerous? (“Figures reveal that attacks by cows are by no means unusual.)