Monday, 15 July 2013

'Dancing the Triumphs of the Hay'

After eleven years of Countryside Stewardship and Higher Level Scheme management our twenty five odd acres of hayfields are gradually becoming hay meadows, though obviously not "ancient".

Four of the fields were laid down in the 1980's with a commercial ryegrass and white clover mix, the two larger fields were laid down in 2002 with a ryegrass and clover free Countryside Stewardship mix, under the terms of Arable Reversion. Now, all the areas are fairly mixed with ryegrass-I should think Kent Perennial and Wild White Clover-endemic to this part of Kent. I need to brush up my identification skills regarding the other grass species.

It took around eight years, but eventually Spotted Orchids made their appearance:not very frequent this year, but here they are:

Not very large, either;they are taller in the stewardship margins at home. A couple of years later, I discovered Yellow Rattle in both the old commercial grass and in the Arable Reversion:

I was very excited at this, and amused, as my mother told me that as a young girl after the first world war she helped her father rogue Yellow Rattle from his seed crops of Wild White and Kent Perennial.

These fields have, perhaps, been farmed too much to become classic hay meadows, but the comparatively short period of chemical free management has encouraged the growth of more floriferous species, with the hoped for benefit for pollinators and farmland birds. Later this summer we will be adding strips of native wildflower seeds to  add more diversity still.

By doing this, I'm trying to prove to myself, and to other farmers, that it is possible to farm sensitively,meeting the needs of both the wider environment and the consuming public:the hay from these fields, and the autumn grass will be used by our Sussex Cattle. Walkers can cross the footpath leading back to Biddenden, and experience this attempt to mitigate past practice.