As I see it on the land – July-August 2023

Just Waiting.

We are waiting for the showery conditions to clear and the sun to return before setting the combine off on our 2023 harvest. Only then will we know how the crops have survived our dry conditions.

Last weekend’s rain, welcome for most, caught out some growers who were combining oilseed rape. The heavy raindrops and strong wind shattered some seed out of the pods which then appear white, having shed their seed onto the ground.

Yesterday, 22nd, we went to Wisley. As we got out of the car it started to rain. We got soaked through to the skin and returned home. The ground at Ruckinge was still dry under the trees!!
It was strange watching a wet Wimbledon whilst the sun shone here all week.

All preharvest field work has been completed. The grain stores cleaned and fumigated. All the trailers and the combine have been serviced and ready to go. One tractor has a serious oil leak underneath the tractor cab, where two pipes have rubbed causing them to burst. Unable to be driven due to the leak, it was loaded onto a borrowed low-loader trailer and taken to the workshop at Ivychurch for a challenging repair job. The cab has got to be lifted off!

I get asked by visitors what do I do with myself. Trying to keep the caravan site tidy as well as improve it with some flowers, together with the holiday let, doing the accounts and letter writing, plus gardening, there is often little time left in a day. When I can entice a helper to come for an afternoon’s work, we will load the Matbro with nearly 1.5 tonnes of road plainings and head off to the canal towpath/byway. We often lay over 4 tonnes a day all by hand. There is no waste or inconvenience to the public.

Over the last five years we have laid over 350 tonnes of hardcore/plainings onto the canal path. We have had some support from the Drainage Board; the Environment Agency; and the Public Rights of Way, who should be responsible for its upkeep. The majority of the material has been paid for by me, along with the paid helper and the machinery costs.

I am going to seek the support of the two Parish Councils. (a) To perhaps help with funding. A lorry load is now £400. (b) To support getting the Byway closed to traffic in the winter months, similar to the byways in the Hamstreet Nature Reserve and the Bilsington side of Ruckinge. Unfortunately, some 4×4’s will drive through when conditions are wet. Some motor bikers respect the byway whilst others insist on speeding and driving in a manner that breaks the surface and brings up the base material. I am 78 and don’t know how much longer I will be able to continue the work.

The holiday let business has been difficult this year with the agents struggling to find customers. They keep reducing the letting price to encourage people to holiday in this country rather than in the flaming sunshine!!

This week I did an emergency stop in the Matbro (you nearly get thrown out the window) to avoid squashing a grass snake as it slithered across the road close to Brian Fox’s Garden. It is only the second one I have seen alive this year. This weekend the telegraph magazine has an article on snakes and the challenge they face to survive. Apart from humans who will kill them because they just don’t like snakes, it would appear that the buzzards (which I have suspected) and rooks are their main predictors. This might explain why the dead damaged one I found in April was just beneath a rookery.

Last evening one baby owl was having flying lessons up and down the rafters in my old sheep shed. The parent flew out and I retreated so as not to frighten it in the hopes it would get back into the owl box. My daughter was delighted at the news since she maintains she has heard a solitary owlet calling for food for several days. I couldn’t hear a thing. We would normally see food being carried in, but not this year. We have not had owls nesting for three years.

I have seen 5 five ducklings on the canal, but the moorhens seem to be without young.

Harvest news next month. With all the turmoil going on in the world every grain will be needed.

Peter Sillibourne

As I See it on the Land – April 2022

The weather has been kind for several weeks allowing tractor work to start on the spring workload. The winter wheats were looking a bit pale mid February, showing signs that indicated a little nitrogen was required to give them a kick start to the season. Mark sprayed on a small quantity of liquid nitrogen across all the fields. Within ten days the crops greened up and growth was very evident.

Across the marsh sprayers are at work, mostly spraying off the stubbles and green cover crops with glysophate, (roundup,) before the drills plant the spring crops. You will notice the stubbles gradually change from green to brown over the course of a few days. The cost of glysophate has risen dramatically this year. Gardeners will certainly notice the increase when purchasing at the garden centre!

The east wind has dried the fields enough to allow some of the cattle on neighbouring farms to be released from their winter quarters without poaching the ground. It is rare to turn cattle out in March and it will be an easy spring if the weather holds without a lot of rain. The shepherds will appreciate kind lambing weather too. We have hosted more sheep, from two farmers, on the stubbles along the canal. They have been retained in the fields by the use of electrified fencing. The system is so quick and easy to erect compared to the fencing I used to use. Reels of wire are attached to a frame which is driven by the quad bike tyre. As the quad bike moves forwards the two wires are laid out on the ground. The driver puts metal posts in the ground every 15 yards or so, and then places the wire into the two insulators on each post. Very clever and time saving. The only snag is if the battery ever gets low and any of the sheep learn how to escape.

Perhaps with lambing approaching it is a good time to remind people to keep their dogs under strict control. Dogs attacking sheep is a major national problem.

Our involvement with the Sustainable Farm Incentive is under considerable strain. DEFRA accept emails from my partner Mark, but refuse to send to him. They insist on sending everything to me in the office and I have to forward them to Mark to administer and answer them. He has spent hours communicating with DEFRA but cannot get answers to fairly basic questions. The compensation offered doesn’t look as if it will begin to cover the costs. It is highly likely we will withdraw from the scheme.

With the current wicked situation in Ukraine, every bit of land that can grow a crop in this country should be growing one this year. Setting good land aside for birds and bees may have to take second place this year.

There are not the farm workers available to plant the vital wheat growing areas in Ukraine and at the moment we are being told at best they may only get half the land sown. It is one of the bread basket growing areas of the world. Along with the loss of fuel due to sanctions, wheat will be in short supply next year. We are too reliant on other countries supplying our food and the government needs to take action to encourage and support home food production. Imports of meat are likely to be grown to lower welfare standards, and food crops grown using Genetically Modified seed (not allowed here yet) and chemicals that are banned in this country.

Chain saws are still at work trying to clear the debris from Eunice. Hedge rows all around the farm took a battering. The scout and guide campsite at Horton Green had several trees torn out of the ground. I had a lucky escape when logging a large poplar tree when a large branch twisted and hit me on the head and rolled down my back, pushing me to the ground. The chain saw was thrust into the soil. The crash helmet saved my life. Its another of my nine lives gone! Some of the trees are so large we have had to purchase a longer bladed chain saw. It is too heavy for me to use so I do get some help with the trunks!!

Peter Sillibourne

As I See it on the Land – March 2022


No other word describes the mess of fallen trees caused by storm Eunice yesterday.
Even today as I write more trees are succumbing to the strong wind that has followed after the main blow, which obviously weakened them. The wind swept across the open marshland and funnelled into the field close to the farm taking down several 90ft black poplars which crashed across the ditch into the neighbours. Today three trees have lodged against one another in the garden, with a further two willows having toppled over behind the buildings. The loss of trees is making our home more exposed to the prevailing wind. The woodpeckers and little owls have lost their feeding and nesting trees.

I am not sure what we will do with all the timber that will result from this episode since we still have tonnes of wood waiting to be cut up into logs from 2019.

January was such a kind weather month that it enabled outdoor maintenance work to continue. We have tried to strengthen some of the woodland fences in an effort to deter the deer from living in the wheat later in the summer.

We replaced a rotten gate post and erected a smaller gate at Hogtub, which allowed us room to install another dog gate to help walkers who struggle with stiles. We are very concerned that people walk where ever they want irrespective of rights of way.

Under the new SFI (Sustainable Farm Incentive), of which we are one of less than a thousand farmers in the country who are currently signing up to the scheme, people will not be allowed access everywhere. The SFI is still being developed by DEFRA and they are communicating with farmers on its suitability and improvement. A lot of records are going to have to be kept with lots of rules. Whether it will work or not is yet to be decided. A business has got to be profitable to be sustainable or else it will not survive. The money offered to take part in the SFI is not enough to compensate for the loss of money taken from the old basic payment scheme, which is gradually being reduced to zero. It looks as if we will have to take close to 20 acres out of food production and plant seeds for the birds and the bees. Still trying to get clarification from DEFRA.

We have had some ewes grazing the stubbles for about a month, but they have been moved off at the moment.
Tractor work has been confined to hedge cutting which must be completed by the end of February. Fortunately, Mark finished the hedges on Ash Hill just before the B2067 road closure. The verges are taking a pounding from vehicles passing under the wet conditions. Don’t hold your breath too long if you expect the highways to rectify the damage.

Everyone is worrying about the cost of living. It comes as little surprise to anyone in business. Livestock prices are at an all time high for sheep and cattle, but in the doldrums for pig producers. All production costs (fuel, animal feed, chemicals etc.) are rocketing and many items are difficult to obtain. There is talk of empty supermarket shelves and we may have to look at what is really important in life. For example, are mobile phones, bottled water, a bottle of wine, or a can of beer, necessities, as against milk or chicken (both too cheap), bread, fresh fruit, meat and veg?

Just a short note from the Parish Council. The Queen’s Green Canopy is an opportunity to plant trees. The PC feels unable to plant more in Carters Field, due to past experience and the need to water and care for them for at least two years. However, if anyone wants to plant some on their own ground an application can be made to ABC through the PC. Planting is for next December. Anyone interested can get more information from the clerk or councillors.

The PC is still looking for volunteers to fill a vacancy.

Peter Sillibourne

As I See it on the Land – February 2022

We managed to get Darren Godden, a ditch cleaning genius, to give us a day’s work with one of his machines. He cleared a ditch of vegetation, dead wood and mud from the bottom. The next day the skies opened and the ground became waterlogged quickly. The ditch filled with water way above the normal level. Unfortunately, the Kitsbridge Pumping Station had broken down and a new pump needed to be installed. Our ditch water had to flow to the nearest pump at Bilsington to be discharged into the RM Canal. The installation was a prolonged job, which did not go well, so a portable pump was brought in to help control the water. Throughout December water laid on the surface of many fields. The pump returned to service early in January and thankfully the ditch water levels dropped quickly and the land drains were able to work more efficiently.

Last week we loaded 300 tonnes of milling wheat onto lorries which transferred it onto a boat in Sheppey for movement up country. As expected, the buyers made deductions on every load varying from £1.50 to £6 per tonne, because the grain was not plump enough. A total of £860 was deducted. All flour products are going to cost more adding to the inflation problem. We, along with the rest of the world, have a serious problem with the cost of nitrogen fertiliser, which is hovering around £700 per tonne. Can anyone afford to apply as much nitrogen as has been done in the past? The financial return reduces the more you apply, so crop advisors (agronomists) are trying to work out what is the minimum amount that can be applied, and when, in the growth stage of a crop, without jeopardising the final yield. It is highly likely world production will fall dramatically. This is all caused by the restricted flow of gas and oil coming from Russia. Mr.Putin has total control over the matter.
I don’t normally get too political but whilst our government is worrying about getting down to an expensive carbon neutral state, with everyone driving electric cars etc, and we have got to treat animals like humans, the country is going to pot. We need oil to manufacture goods, drive vehicles etc. So why close down oil rigs.

Why are we not fracking like mad? Coal is imported from abroad and this country has an abundance. There are plans to rewild farmland, plant forests, build more houses, cover good farmland with solar panels, but where is our food coming from? It will have to be imported from somewhere probably at great cost to nature, which we will pretend we can’t see.

Why aren’t we developing wave power which is always there, whereas when the wind stops blowing, the turbines stop, and the lights go out. Our coal fired power stations now burn wood chips that are carried half way round the world. At what cost to zero emissions?

Back in November the government ordered everyone with chicken to shut them indoors to avoid avian flu. I could not face shutting mine up like last year because it exhausted me trying to clean the houses out regularly with hens inside. Part of my flock were in their third year so they were culled. Job done. The younger birds are retained for the present time but pressure is being applied to give up poultry altogether. Short of eggs to eat I bought some in Lidl that were from caged birds as against home free range ones. They were 60% of the price of home produced and I could not tell the difference when eating them. I am not sure whether the hatcheries will continue to produce more chicks with the situation as it is.

We would like to thank everyone who bought mistletoe from the board outside Margaret and John Allen’s house in Cock Lane, Hamstreet. The sale raised £53 which has been sent to Cancer Research.

Peter Sillibourne

As I See it on the Land – December 2021

We have just enjoyed three weeks of dry, calm weather in November, almost unheard of. It has encouraged some belated growth in the green cover crops, but not enough to provide much sheep feed in the new year. I am afraid our oilseed rape crop has failed and we will be looking to find an alternative crop to plant in the spring. The winter wheat crops have had to have yet more slug pellets applied but are now growing away from the pest. Only one field has plants looking very sparce in places so we hope it will tiller well in the spring and compensate. Nitrogen will be needed to encourage growth, and currently the price of nitrogen across the world is so expensive that farmers are holding back from purchasing the product. This is causing concern as to how it may affect the yields come next harvest. The supply of wheat worldwide is already on a knife edge and nobody seems to know whether there is sufficient in store, or not, to feed the continuously expanding world population. Prices keep rising. I notice dear old Tesco’s have put the price of my favourite roll up by 50% this week. A sign of the times.

Mark has been busy drilling for other people, as well as hedge cutting when time allows him to do so. Now hedge cutting may look easy, but it is a highly skilled job. It gives you neck ache constantly watching the flail working on your left.

The quieter weather conditions enabled me to pollard some of the black poplars on our caravan site. Some of our customers will not approve because they like the shade, but having seen what the wind is capable of doing we decided to lower the height of some in the interest of health and safety. Last month I commented on the size of my chainsaw and a neighbour offered me to use their larger one. I was not man enough to handle it! I also lowered the height of two large ash trees in my garden to allow more sunshine to reach the solar panels on the bungalow. My neighbour kindly used this larger model to cut through the trunk for me.

Leaves have been falling for weeks now. The gutters need cleaning for a third time. Some trees are naked already, whilst the hazel and sycamores are hanging on to their leaves, but no doubt a wind or drastic change in temperature will change all that. Wonderful conditions for preparing the garden for next year.

I would be interested to hear from anyone who has experienced an invasion of spring tails in their house. Google says there are thousands per square metre outside. We do not know how they get access to the building.

They just appear and then die in their hundreds on a daily basis, under the sofa or in a corner. A complete mystery. First sighting was in October and we are hoping a change in temperature may deter them. They are very small, about 1/16th inch. Harmless. Jump when touched. Very hard shells.

My hens have gone into a winter moult and are refusing to lay many eggs. They don’t enjoy darkness. I get annoyed when I see paper articles advising people to save battery hens at the end of their productive life when they would normally go for slaughter as dog food or whatever. I am currently paying £12.30 for a 25kg bag of layers pellets. That equates to 75 eggs at £2 dozen. You don’t have to be a genius to work out the economics.

I have an abundance of mistletoe which I try to sell in aid of cancer research. I hope to have some available in Hamstreet near the Rectory. Do not keep it indoors until near Christmas. Store outdoors moist. The weekend before Christmas would be the perfect time if you wanted to pick your own. HS 732615

Parish Council. A surprise e-mail, just a few days before our November meeting, informed us that the Chairman was resigning immediately and as from the end of the meeting he would give up both the Chairmanship and also as a Parish Councillor. Jeremy had held the position during the difficult covid period of restrictions, without an experienced clerk to guide and help him. I know from experience it can be a thankless job and there is always some member of the public not happy, which makes the task harder. Thank you, Jeremy, for giving it a go.

Replacement. Terri Cliffe-Harrison felt unable to fill the position due to her work commitments and remains as Vice Chairman. Steve Hewison, the newest member of the PC, has taken on the challenge of the job. His life experience and enthusiasm, together with his knowledge of Information Technology, will move the PC forward into the 2020’s. Just feel sorry for us oldies trying to keep up!!

The neighbourhood watch man, Peter New, attended the meeting and urged us to try to get the message out to people, of not leaving goods in vehicles and security around our homes. Unfortunately, a car was broken into at the top of Ash Hill and credit cards were stolen. They were used within just a few minutes in local shops.

Serious night time thieves have been busy at local farms.

Christmas greetings to my readers.

Peter Sillibourne

As I See it on the Land – November 2021

Once again, the weather has taken control of our farm work and it appears we are heading for some serious crop losses. The wheat stubbles that were planted with cover crops did not receive any quantity of rain until Saturday the 2nd of October when the heavens opened with 30 ml of water, with another 10ml on the Sunday and a further 30.5ml in just a couple of hours early on Monday morning. We have been watching to see if the seed is still viable and is going to push through the surface and surprise us. Not yet. The slugs which had a wonderful time breeding in July keep munching away on anything with a green colour.

Like wise the oilseed rape crop. All that germinated immediately after drilling appears to have succumbed to flea beetle or slugs, or both depending on the topography of the field. We were hoping that after the wet weekend more rape would appear. It is still fingers crossed but in reality, it looks as if the crop is lost. It will be the first time we will have lost the whole crop. I hope I can give better news next month.

Our winter wheat crop has all been planted, so in a couple of weeks’ time we hope to see seedlings appearing. Slug pellets have had to be applied across the whole area.

I have been asked why we have spoiled the oilseed rape crops growing on the north side of the village. The answer is that we haven’t. The green OSR growing was self sown (fell out the pod before being combined) or knocked out whilst being combined. It was left as a green cover crop and has now been sprayed with roundup to kill it, whilst next years wheat crop has been sown through it with a direct drill. This is what the government is encouraging farmers to do. Minimise soil disturbance, reduce CO emissions, keep the soil growing a green crop all year round to help with drainage etc. and keep the use of fertilisers and pesticides to a minimum, along with a long list of desirable, but almost impossible, aims to achieve.

During that windy wet weekend, yet another of our large black poplars was blown down across a ditch out into my neighbours’ field, which looked as if it was about to be cut for a third time for conservation. The grass was knee high. It was agreed we should get out into grass and clear the tree before the wetter weather set in and stopped the operation. Although only 100yds directly from my farm buildings it was a long drive to get around to the other side of the ditch. In my opinion the tree was 90 feet tall. However, my estimation is often questioned (I was quite good at the subject as a scout leader) so we measured it with a tape measure. It was over 90 feet tall! On the first day of trimming and logging the tree, with my lady helper (slave), we made good progress burning the tops on a good fire.

The second day, disaster, the chain saw wouldn’t start. How I wished I had the strength of twenty years ago. The plug was removed and cleaned several times, before the aga was used to warm the plug during lunch break. It started easily.

When we had load half of the large tonnage of wood onto the trailer, we found we had a flat tyre. Back to the farm for a jack, spanners, spade, blocks of wood and anything we thought might be of use. Eventually the tyre was removed ready for repair overnight. The trunk was too wide for my saw so I had to cut from both sides until I had to abandon and leave the lower trunk for a larger saw. The third day we struggled to get the tyre back onto the trailer. Eventually, with the trailer repaired, and all the trunk loaded, we were glad to leave the site!

Last Sunday we had a suspicious car come into our farmyard after it had been driven onto our caravan site. I went out to speak to the driver who was accompanied by a teenager. They were having a good look at what was in the yard and probably the security measures. I was given a story that they were looking for a campsite for 3 caravans which were currently parked on a car park at Dymchurch. Highly likely! Clare put the car details on farmwatch and within a very short time the police were in touch wanting more details. They were looking for the vehicle. The same day a neighbour had a landrover drive across his land and activate his security system and it appears his farm was being surveyed for a possible following visit.

At the Parish Council Meeting we had the Neighbourhood Watch volunteer (Peter New) for Ashford District attend and he briefed us on the need to be alert and the necessity to report anything suspicious to the police so they can build up a picture of what is happening and where. Do not leave it to others to report. The more reports the better the chance of getting an improved service.

Peter Sillibourne

As I See it on the Land – October 2021

Harvest eventually finished. The wheat at Woodchurch came off similar to the rest of the farm. Light in bushel weight but with good bread making quality. We hear that nationally the bakers are struggling to get good samples of wheat, so we hope ours will still be accepted.

The combine coped with the beans and did a good job of salvaging what looked like a mess. The tonnage appears to be close to two tonnes an acre, which if that proves correct is good for the year. When the sun shone once we got into September, the combine was able to swiftly harvest nearly a hundred acres of linseed in less than two days. What a relief. Heat is required to allow the wirery stems of the plant to pass through the combine without wrapping around every obstacle it can find to attach its ‘self to. The yield according to the combine, which we do not how accurate it is, was close to a tonne an acre, which probably made it our best crop this year.

The over winter wheat stubbles have all been sown with a green cover crop, but now the weather has changed back to dry it has not germinated. Possible thunderstorms are forecast for tonight.

The oilseed rape crop for 2022 was direct drilled into wheat stubbles just over a week ago and already two half doses of slug pellets have been applied across the fields to try to stem the army of slugs attacking the seedlings. You do not get a second chance with this crop. Once the seedling is eaten that’s it.

Mark has tried mole ploughing, but the bean haulm clogs the beam. The linseed stubble is too dry to let the moleplough enter into the ground. Only the oilseed rape stubble and some of the wheat stubbles are getting done.

I was a little disappointed by the quality of the owl in black and white print last month. It didn’t give justice to the cameraman.

The swallows departed this week along with hundreds of others that had accumulated over Romney Marsh before leaving on their journey. I do hope they return next year. But now it will save some work not having to clean windows on the holiday let. They nested on the rainwater downpipe. As they flew into the nest, they had a habit of dropping crap all over the windows.

Peter Sillibourne

As I See it on the Land – September 2021

I forgot the deadline last month and have been duly admonished by several readers. Couldn’t have been anything urgent to report on!!

Spring Watch eat your heart out. The pictures of the owl were taken by Lester Selmes, a caravanner, whilst watching the owls on their frequent hunting trips. Two owlets were seen in the old sheep shed together with their parents. They appear to have been fed for quite a long time after fledging, possibly whilst the weather was so poor. We watched them learning to fly and search for food on the CCTV. They seem to have dispersed from the buildings now.

A buzzard has nested not far from the buildings and its solitary offspring makes a monotonous weeping sound almost continuously. It always seems hungry.

The swallows have had two broods and we believe they are on a third lot which will not be leaving the nest until September, which doesn’t give much time to build strength before flying to South Africa.
We have had a tree surgeon reduce two large ash trees down to the main trunk. One was suffering from ash die-back, whilst the other, which was damaged in the great storm of 1987, was becoming a potential danger. One has started to sprout again, whilst the other has allowed light into part of the garden.

The ground was rock hard in April and moles struggled for a living. July, and with the soil so moist, they think its an early Christmas. They are heaving everywhere. Ants too have had a bounteous time and there are casts everywhere, especially on the lawn!

What a lousy July we endured. Normal haymaking of meadows would gradually take place throughout the month. However due to regular rain showers farmers delayed cutting. At the first sign of dry weather everyone started mowing and then when the crop was dry there were not enough contractors available to complete such a condensed period of haymaking. Quality slipped and a lot of hay was made of poor feeding value. For those with large acres to deal with there are few jobs more frustrating than having to keep turning hay day after day in the hope of getting the fields clear, knowing the resulting bales will be of poor quality. It is the first time I have known stock farmers to be embarrassed with such a surplus of grass in a July. Some fields have remained uncut and livestock put back in to try to get the fields back into a reasonable state.

Harvest is about two weeks later than normal this year

Oilseed rape was the first crop ready. Fortunately, the crop had been sprayed with a chemical to help prevent the pods from shattering in heavy rain, which duly arrived in the third week of July just as the crop was fit for combining.

My fears of frost damage to the oilseed rape crop became apparent once the combine had harvested the crop The average weight was confirmed at 24 hundredweight an acre once the lorries had transferred it to Weald Granary at Mereworth. The result seems to be similar on other farms, but well below what I had hoped for from such a healthy-looking crop in the spring. Currently the value is much higher than last year.

The combine moved onto a neighbour’s farm to complete their wheat before starting on our block adjacent to the canal. The heavy rain and wind in July had put a lean to the crop and many stalks had bent or snapped and were below the cutter bar on the combine. The combine estimates that it has harvested about 9.5 tonnes a hectare.

I hate metrication. This equates to about a tonne an acre less than previous years. That’s an awful lot of loaves of bread less!! Although early days yet this seems to be similar across the country. Our bread making test results show that the protein and Hagberg levels are good, but the bushel weight is only just sufficient enough and some is just below the minimum level required and will incur a small penalty charge. It should still go for bread making. The world markets are volatile to say the least and prices are rising to unprecedented levels everywhere. Russia is no longer exporting and traders are nervous, especially of China. It is thought that China is back up to 400 million hungry pigs (animals not humans!!). A mixture of floods, droughts, fires, hurricanes etc. around the world are creating many questions on the availability of food and the transport to get it to where it is wanted.

We are currently waiting on the weather to improve, and for some new tyres to arrive for the combine! Wheat at Woodchurch is next on the combines list of work, followed by spring barley on the neighbours. Our winter beans have blown over and look a mess. I am sure Mark will enjoy trying to salvage them!

The Parish Council is considering whether to join the nation in celebrating the Queens 60 years on the throne. I am not sure if her Majesty would agree to thousands of bonfires and fireworks causing further pollution and global warming, if she was allowed any say in the matter. Compared to the fires raging around the world from California, Siberia, Turkey, Australia etc. a little extra smoke is nothing. If we are serious about “zero” we should stop.

Peter Sillibourne

As I See it on the land – July 2021

The break in the weather came towards the end of May, when five sunny days allowed those making silage or haylage a less worrying time. I watched two neighbours busy cutting the grass, then turning it a couple of times before the baler came in.

The two could not have been more contrasting. One using extremely modern, very expensive machinery. I have never witnessed such speed of operation or size of equipment. The tractor mowing, had a mower on the front of it and another mower extending out to the side and must have been cutting at least 8 metres width of crop at a time. This was followed by anther tractor throwing the grass up into the air and spreading the grass about to dry. This was done three times before a baler came in and compacted the grass into large square bales. These were then wrapped in black polythene by another machine. Tractors and trailers were loaded throughout the day and night and about 50 acres cleared of all bales during the night. Boy, did they know how to work!

Another observation of mine was that any wildlife in the grass had no chance of survival because of the speed and width of the machinery. We have had 5 hen pheasants go out to nest in the surrounding countryside.

Hopefully they will be in the wheat fields and will be able to fly to avoid the combine.

My more conventional neighbour with modest equipment, spent more hours with much smaller machinery to achieve a similar result. The forecast was for rain, and he got a contractor in who completed the baling just before the rain arrived. There were over 300 round bales of quality foodstuff. It took them several days to load the bales and move them back to the buildings for storage. The rooks were a nuisance as they sat on the bales pecking holes in the polythene which allowed air into the fermenting grass.

On our farm, Mark has finished the last spray to go onto the wheat crop (called an earwash) to keep it healthy through to harvest. The beans need one more spray and the linseed possibly more. He has been mowing the headlands of the crops to remove some of the rubbish growing along the ditch banks and hedges. We are permitted to cut but not to spray!

Following complaints from the PROW officer I have replaced a stile on the Saxon Shoreline footpath at Horton Green. When time allows, and access is possible, I may try to improve others. Dog owners are a bit of a problem because they tend to make holes in the adjacent fence to allow Fido to pass through. I made a dog gate once. Very time consuming and not easy to use. The PROW team want farmers to either remove stiles, or put in metal kissing gates, which now cost close to 3 hundred pounds. They are not easy to put in the ground either.

Two bits of good news on the nature front. I can confirm we do have owls feeding young in one of the owl boxes in our shed. Caravaners are having a wonderful time watching the parents carry mice across the fields. I hope the recent stormy night did not disrupt hunting too much since the weakest owlet will get evicted to give the stronger ones a chance to survive.

The second bit of news is that we have a pair of swallows nesting here for the first time in over twenty years. The nest is well hidden in a dark spot between buildings. If they get a move on, they may have time to rear a second brood. Let’s hope they return next year.

Still no sign of baby ducks or swans, although there are cygnets on a neighbour’s ditch.

Peter Sillibourne

As I See it on the Land – June 2021

Relief at last. All through April we worried about the extremely dry weather. I only recorded 3mm of rain in the month. Cracks were opening in the arable fields just like harvest time. In the last two weeks all has changed. The ground is now moist, whilst weeds and late sown crops are germinating and growing at speed. Hopefully our spring sown linseed will soon be visible, having been sown into dry soil.

I have been disappointed by the lack of pods on the oilseed rape. The frost stopped them developing, together with a lack of insects to pollinate. I think at least a third of the early pods are missing. Mark tries to cheer me up by saying the plants will compensate by having larger seeds in the pods that survive.

All the fertiliser has now been applied to the wheat crops. The wetter weather is likely to make conditions for disease to flourish so the sprayer will no doubt have to apply some fungicide.

Those farmers who conserve grass by making it into silage will hope for a break in the sporadic showers. The grass needs to be cut and allowed to wilt for a day before it is blown into trailers and taken back to the farm and clamped. The alternative is to put the grass into large plastic bales. The crops I see are just about ready to be mown. The blackgrass growing in amongst the grass is getting close to seeding and if mowing gets delayed one of the reasons for growing a break crop will be lost.

My wildlife observations are all rather gloomy this month. I have not seen a single baby moorhen, duck or swan. Insects seem scarce on the water. A pair of swans nesting in the ditch along Marsh road seemed to lose their fresh egg on a daily basis. Did someone have a large omelette each day, or what removed the egg?

A magpie has been having a field day finding nests and eating eggs. Pheasant eggs, duck eggs, blackbird and thrush eggs seem to be scattered around the edges of the field and around the farm yard.

The cold throughout April has made for a late spring which has reduced the availability of insects and food on hedgerows etc. At least the rain has made foraging for food easier on the ground.

Briefly saw more swallows on the 25th but they moved on the next day. A cuckoo has arrived and is now resident in the area. A barn owl is seen almost daily hunting out over the hay/silage fields. How it ever sees or hears its prey in such long grass I will never understand. It’s keeping my caravanners amused. We hope that we may have residents in one of our owl boxes but will not know until eggs are hatched and the young are being fed.

Peter Sillibourne