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 – June 2023

As I See it on the Land

As predicted the spring oats were just visible in their rows by the start of May.

The crop is not uniformly even in growth. I am told it is where the combine left too much straw directly behind it and the residue nitrogen in the soil has been utilised to break it down. This is coupled with areas where the ground was just too wet for ideal planting conditions leaving a thin crop. Just part of trying to cope with a late wet spring! No doubt everyone will have noticed in their gardens how difficult a year it is.

Planting the linseed, when the soil had warmed a bit more, was just as much a challenge in May. Showers of rain made the job difficult and Mark spent two long days over yet another Bank Holiday getting the majority sown. With moist soil this year, the complete opposite to last year when the dry period had started, germination was rapid and the seedlings were visible within 10 days. Then the flea beetles started, peppering the leaves with shot holes and chopping seedlings off. Regular spraying has been necessary and is still continuing as I write. Hopefully we will win the battle and much of our farm will become a vibrant colourful sight in June.

The winter wheat has had another dose of nitrogen and routine fungicide spraying continues. As Mark sprays across a field, he stops whenever he sees a patch of blackgrass, gets off the sprayer and gives it a dose of glysophate by hand. Although this kills the wheat as well it is the way he has reduced the wretched weed across the farm. Headlands and ditch banks are now the dirty seed bank source for blackgrass.

I failed to mention lambing last month. What a wet time the shepherds had. One neighbour tells me that following torrential rain one night he went out at day break into the fields to find six ewes had lambed on little islands. The tide receded (drained away) during the day and thankfully all was well.

The weather is ideal for maggots to develop in the wool. The cool temperature makes shearing difficult.

Silage trailers have been busy carrying fresh cut grass though the villages. They are so large and fast, that they can be quite intimidating to meet on a minor road.

‘Grasslands’ keep mowing their turf around Carters Farm and we should all hope that when the time comes for cutting and lifting the turf that the weather is kind to avoid mud on the road.

I have been writing about the price of cereals for months. This week, the Prime Minister held a meeting, which included all sections of the food industry, to find out why food prices continue to rise when the price of cereals has dropped. There should have been some red faces!                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                        In the garden, the blossom on the plumtrees and the cherries was beautiful and full of promise. However, close inspection now shows that the plums survived the frost but the cherries, blooming just a few days behind the plums, caught the early morning frost and most of the fruit has not formed. I think it is time to give up on trying to grow them!! The spotted winged drosophila is the next challenge. Get the control wrong and the fruit becomes full of maggots!!

We have never taken part in the national bird counts, partly because nobody would believe the figures and secondly, we would not be too sure of our identification. We can often have dozens of birds in the trees around our substantial feeders. However, death has struck in a dramatic manner this month with many greenfinches and chaffinches dying, seemingly very quickly. One can easily see when a bird is unhappy and they sit on the ground, sometimes drawling. Death soon follows. Some days I have picked up three carcases close to the house. Carcasses can be found farther afield. I have been sent the following information.” A new study reveals a rapid decline in Britain’s greenfinch and chaffinch numbers. Experts say it is due to a severe outbreak of a nasty disease called trichomonosis. It makes birds’ throats swell, forcing them to regurgitate food and then starve” It really is quite distressing to watch.

I have not seen a baby duckling yet this year. Normally ducks have an early brood in April which often catches bad weather and there are insufficient insects on the ditches to keep them alive. A second hatching should occur in late April – early May and they should be enjoying life on the canal by now.

There are a lot of swans on the canal not nesting. I know not why. We only have one swan sitting on a nest with just three eggs on a minor ditch. Something strange is happening to the natural world.

A cuckoo arrived on the 24th April and appears to be covering a very large area,

only visiting occasionally during the day. We had swallows arrive about two weeks ago and they were flying in and out of our woodshed for about two hours. We got excited thinking they were going to nest there. Suddenly they were gone. Shed rejected.

We now have another pair who seem to be permanent residents but I cannot find where they have selected for nest building. Certainly not where they nested in the

last two years.

Peter Sillibourne

As I see it on the land – May 2023

As I See it on the Land

How everything changed after writing last month. We have endured one of the wettest springs ever recorded. During the last four weeks Mark and the Batts, with whom we share some equipment, have managed to get around both farms to apply another dose of nitrogen onto the autumn sown wheat. They used a tractor with wide tyres in order to spread the weight over a large area.

In between showers when the opportunity allowed, Mark would arise at the crack of dawn, before the wind got up, to put a spray of fungicide onto the wheat in an effort to keep disease at bay and the leaves healthy.  Also, late evening, when the wind has dropped, he sprayed the stubbles with glysophate to kill the weeds and greenery left by the sheep, where spring oats were due to be sown. Over the Easter weekend he spent two long days direct drilling the oats into reasonably dry ground. The rain that followed the next day has helped to germinate the oats and they are sprouting nicely and by the time the magazine is printed I hope the fields will be green.

When it was too wet for field work Mark took two trailer loads of tractor tyres that had accumulated around the farm yard over several years to a disposal firm. It cost £546.00. The charge was £1 per inch, which averaged about £20 per tyre. No wonder they get dumped in woods, ditches and gateways around the countryside. Being “farm assured” we have to show evidence of how we dispose of waste. If we could send them over to France, or just about any other country in the world, rioters and protestors would willing burn them in the street for nothing!! To hell with pollution!!

With the help of Sandra, my dogs’ body, we have been marking the outfalls of the field drains on land north of the village. When we got to a main outfall at Horton Green we noticed there was a lot of soil that had accumulated in the ditch. We reported to Mark that it needed his ditching machine to go and clear the ditch so the water could flow away freely. That drain outlet is the source of the stream that flows by Marshside Farm into the back drain.

With the weather delaying his urgent work, he loaded the digger onto a trailer and went off to deal with the blockage the next day. It is not normal for our requests to get dealt with so quickly! However, when he arrived, he found a sink hole in the field exactly where we had driven with the quad bike the previous day. It was about twice the size of our kitchen table and nearly three feet deep. The main drain was visible. He had to go to Ashford and buy some piping to repair the damage. The hole was then filled with soil taken from the ditch. It is the first sink hole I have encountered. It does seem to be all the rage nowadays.

Following on from this episode, Mark was spraying the Butt field, behind Ransley Green when he came across an extremely wet area just out from the top of Elaine’s field. This had got to be rectified. Out came the digger again. He dug a trench and found some 2-inch diameter pipes running north to south directly downhill. They were about 2.5 feet deep, laid by hand, probably in the 1880’s. The subsoil he was digging out looked perfect for brick making. Rumour has it that there was a brick kiln at The Downs, just across the road, and many of the ponds (mostly now filled in) were dug for clay.

Some of these pipes were still passing water but were not going to help this wet patch. The field was drained in 1980 by machine using plastic perforated pipe mostly at an average depth of three feet across the slope of the field. Nowadays the trenches are back filled with beach, but not in1980. We got the drainage plan out of the office and set about trying to locate the position of the drains in the field. The only outlet for the whole field passes under one of the containers at the Scout HQ and empties into the stream just behind it.

Mark dug at an angle to let the water flow downhill. We found a 1980 drain but it was solid with dirt. This meant we had got to find where it joined the main drain, out in the middle of the field. We measured back from the main outlet to where we thought was the probable point. Mark dug a trench and we found the join. The pipe needed jetting with water to flush the dirt out. With no water supply available it meant we had to find a way to provide some. A milk tanker was filled with water and towed out into the field. The jetter was put on a tractor, connected to the tanker, then Mark proceeded slowly to flush the dirt out. He used 24 thousand litres of water. Rain brought the operation to a halt before he could finish.

At last, the avian flu restrictions have been lifted this week and the birds can have the freedom of being outdoors, just as the grass is beginning to grow.

Market news. Lamb prices shot up at Easter. Pig prices improved. Beef still selling at a high. Wheat price lower than pre-war. Ukrainian wheat depressing the price in neighbouring countries, causing much bad feeling. It has nowhere else to go.

Why is it not coming through into food prices in the shops?

My caravan site has taken a battering with vehicles getting stuck and having to be towed out. The wettest I have known the site to be in forty years. Sun, please shine soon.

Inside my folly, (a circle of willow trees) there was a sheet of board left lying on the ground over the winter and when we lifted it there were a large number of small lizards that had just had the roof lifted off their home. We dropped it to allow them to carry on with life.

Some wildlife I have seen has suffered, but what from? We were working on my folly in the Caravan Site one afternoon. The next day a snake was dead just a few yards from where we had worked. It had a wound just behind the head, as if it might have been caught, carried or whatever, and dropped from the sky. We have seen hen harriers and buzzards locally. Whatever killed it, wasted it.

The following day I found a long slow worm writhing on my drive, with its back end severed. It would not go into the grass verge. I flicked it onto the ditch bank, not knowing whether it could survive such an injury. It was obviously in great pain. It was not a vehicle wound. Mystery two!

I have briefly seen one solitary swallow. The bluebells are bursting forth.

Peter Sillibourne

As I see it on the land – April 2023

As I See it on the Land

Writing well ahead of the delivery time of the magazine can be tricky. A dry February looked as if it was going to enable spring work to surge ahead. But no, whilst some beans were direct drilled locally on the marsh and some of the lighter land on the hills above the marsh planted with spring cereals, the weather brought a rapid halt to activity. We are now enduring one of the wettest March’s and our drilling will get pushed back into April.

In February we started an experiment by having a neighbours sheep come in to graze some of our winter wheat which was growing strongly. An electric fence was erected across part of each of the four fields selected to contain the animals. It was going well until the rain came and the sheep had to come off before too much damage was done by feet stodging up the ground and harming the wheat. The intention was to graze the excessive growth at top of the plant to see if disease was reduced. Careful monitoring when combining will discover whether yield has been compromised on the grazed areas.

The price of lambs being sold in the market since Xmas has dropped by an average of £20 per head below last year’s price. Cattle are making ever record prices with the demand for mince. Pigs are still below the cost of production but improving slightly. I cannot understand why the compound feed prices are still so high when the price per tonne for animal feed wheat is now lower than pre the Ukraine war. It peaked at nearly £360 tonne in May 2022 and is now trading around £215 per tonne.

About 70% of our lamb production is sold in supermarkets. However, sales are down 17% on pre covid times. It is perceived as expensive compared to pork and chicken.

Since writing last month some shelves have been bare in the supermarkets, which brings me onto the subject of eggs. Following a visit to KIMs hospital in Maidstone, we decided to go to Marks and Spencer in the nearby estate to try to buy a pair of trousers. I am no shopper, but the size of the place was an eye opener. No trousers for me, I’m too fat!! They have to be purchased on line. I said whilst we are here, we will look in the food hall. Wow. The prices!!  Eggs were an astonishing 85.3 pence each for a medium brown (supposedly free range) egg. Who pays that?

The NFU say that there were a billion eggs less laid in the UK last year because growers cut back on the number of hens kept, due to the supermarkets being unwilling to cover the increased cost of production. Bird Flu continues to be a problem with about 164 outbreaks in the UK. The nearest cases are in Essex and one in Sussex. DEFRA are looking into the possibility that every chicken in the land has to be registered, even if you only have a single pet in the garden. It will provide a few jobs for the boys! At the moment anyone with 50 + has to be recorded.

This week I had a man arrive in the yard representing a firm cutting trees for UK Power Networks requesting access to my field near the canal bridge. He said all branches within 4 metres of the line had to be trimmed. OK. Where is the paperwork I ask? None, he says. It is all done electronically. Sign this pad with your finger!

I said I would look at the trees the following day, because I thought there was little to give any concern. When are you intending to do the work? Wednesday, he replied.   I said I would be in the village in the morning, but I had a funeral to attend in the pm.

We looked at the trees on Tuesday and there were a few tiny branches/twigs within 4 metres of the electricity wires. Wednesday morning a phone call from the said gentleman got me out of bed. I said I could find little that needed cutting. He insisted there was a dead tree. I thought I must have missed one. I would see the workers later. They had not arrived by midday. They were not there at 1.30 p.m. They were there at 3.15 p.m. after the funeral and they had nearly finished cutting down a tree I had transplanted from my garden some 20 years ago. It had dead ivy on it which I had cut last year to prevent it choking the tree. I went ballistic. Just a misunderstanding they said!  Incompetence. I told them to leave what remained and I hoped it would shoot out again.

I will need more thorough details in future before granting access for tree cutting.

The snowdrops have just finished and the primroses are a riot of yellow, whilst some of the daffodils have had a bit of a knocking in the wind. The later ones are surviving.

Peter Sillibourne



As I see it on the land – March 2023

As I See it on the Land

The threatened snow, thankfully, never arrived here last month, just extreme cold. A second spell of cold weather spelt the end of stubble grazing. The phacelia       withered and died just leaving the self-sown wheat plants. Due to late planting in the autumn, after the combine had harvested the wheat crop at Ivychurch, the forage crop did not establish well over the whole 50 acres so it was always going to be a delicate crop to manage and little needed to go wrong to make it unviable. Nature dealt the cold spells, so it was out of our control. There was too little greenery left to warrant the time and cost of erecting electric fencing to graze with sheep. Let’s hope for better fortune this year, since it is a part of one of Defra’s schemes for improving the soil and preventing leaching.

My tractor driving partner, Mark, has had a new knee ‘installed’, which has kept him securely at home, away from work for two months. He has just started driving his car and this week he supervised a neighbour who applied the first dose of nitrogen to our winter wheat crop. The crop looks good and we hope it is putting down deep root systems to enable it to cope with any drought periods we might encounter as the year progresses.

It has been a quiet working time for field work, but as the soil has dried during the last couple of weeks the farmers on lighter land have been eager to make a start on cultivations. Yesterday, whilst at Aldington church, I observed the Bouldens giving the ground a stir to dry it out a little more.

Around the countryside stubbles are getting sprayed off with glysophate to kill the weeds prior to drilling. A neighbour’s large acreage of oilseed rape, near the end of my drive, has been sprayed off as a failed crop. There were insufficient plants growing to make it a viable crop, and this is in a year when pigeons have not been a problem.

My builder came back on the scene in January. I had jokingly suggested he had gone to Greenland for Xmas. In fact, he had gone to the Mediterranean for warmth! He assured me my Klargister sewage system did not allow any water other than that from the kitchen and the bathroom to get into the tank. So where did the water come from? After much debate it was decided that the ground water level had risen so much in November, when we had torrential rain for several days, that the water had come back into the tank from the dispersal pipes. The ditch levels were exceedingly high for days. Obviously, a problem to watch for in the future. Sounds a bit like Bromley Green Road water problems!!

I have kept myself occupied by trying to improve the Caravan Site, as well as doing a lot of pruning. My hands suffer in the cold, even when wearing gloves, so work sessions are often shorter.

The aconites  are out in full bloom, the snowdrops are about to burst into full flower and the primroses and daffs are following suit. Spring has sprung.

Peter Sillibourne


As I see it on the land – February 2023

As I See it on the Land


I received a phone call after 10pm on the evening of the day the thaw set in after the cold spell. Some mindless 4×4 drivers were seen driving their vehicles round a grass field doing wheelies. Unfortunately, it was a wheat field, not a grass one. The soil was like superglue sticking to everything. Their wheels threw mud in all directions. When they got back onto the canal track the mud on the wheels pulled the road surface up leaving an uneven surface. They did more monetary damage to the road than the wheat. I think the wheat is so early in its development that most of it will recover. They also damaged one of the gates at the pumping station causing it to swing over the water.

Having agreed to pay for pipes to go in a ditch, to enable us to clean out badger spoil and allow the drains to work again, I received a shock when the invoice arrived. They cost over £300 pounds. There will be more work covering the pipes in the summer and I can see the whole job costing well over £500. Is this what farming for ‘the public good‘ means?

The freeze in December damaged a lot of the growth in the green cover crops that were due to be grazed by sheep. Grazing is taking place but on a reduced scale. I am told that once the lambs have got a taste for it, they are fattening well and the selling price is reasonable. Old cull ewes, that have finished their breeding life, are in demand and making around £100.

Due to reduced cultivations and careful soil management the ground is putting up with the excessive rain well and not poaching (getting muddy) as much as one would expect. Water is getting down into the land drains. I used to grow kale and dreaded a wet time with the crop getting spoilt by sheep stodging it into the ground. Happy days!!

The Bilsington to Newchurch road was closed to all traffic at the end of Nov. early December by the water company, at the same time as Tarpot Lane was closed by the Environment Agency. Marsh road, the alternative route, was abused and with the bus detouring to get to Newchurch the verges were badly damaged. Tarpot lane could not be repaired because tarmac was not available during the cold spell. Although I have not seen the work carried out on the canal bank, I understand an improved outlet has been installed to allow water from the marsh ditch to flow naturally under the road when the canal level is low enough. When the canal level rises under excessively wet times a flap closes and the water remains in the ditch. It is a good addition to our local drainage system.

I had noticed that the water was flowing easterly in the sewer past the farm on some days and westerly on other days. Now I know why. I thought the pump had stopped working. All has been explained.

A walk/drive along the west end of Tarpot Lane and one can see a new fence that has been erected and a substantial hedge planted parallel to the road east of Hans Farm. It looks like professional bit of planting and will surely make a good hedge within a couple of years. The saplings appear to vary between 4 or 5 feet in height and provided they are prevented from drying out in the summer will soon screen the farm.

When the cold spell arrived, I turned off the water supplies to most parts of the farm to avoid getting burst pipes. The sewage tanker was due to empty two septic tanks. I had to cancel and rearrange for a later visit when I could provide clean water for washing. It duly arrived on the 23rd Dec. We opened up the top of the tank to find hundreds of little black balls floating in all parts of the tank. The driver was unable to empty it, and said I needed a specialist firm to come and sort it out. The driver kindly gave our house tank a spring clean rather than an expensive wasted journey.

Well, if you know me, you know who the specialist was!! The first thing to do was to find out what had happened and why. Advice was difficult to get as the builder seemed to have vanished (I think he had gone to Greenland for Xmas). Other builders said there are so many Klargester models all working in a similar manner but the principal is the same. The little plastic balls should have been in the centre section where they were responsible for generating aerobic bacteria to clean the sewage system.

We had had a burst mains water pipe nearby in August and did not know where the water went. We now believe it got into the sewage system of the holiday let, raised the water level too much in the tank, and the little balls were forced out of their cage into the main tank.

Fishing began on the 29th. Two feed bags were filled using a garden rake to separate the balls from the liquid. It was going to be a long tedious job and visitors were due in the cottage. Job abandoned until the following week when we had a three-day break from visitors. The ground was so wet it had to be covered with sheets of plyboard to prevent the area becoming a mud bath. Two days of intermittent fishing, with a torch to illuminate the inside of the tank, with a sieve and a rake as rods, hundreds were extracted ready to be put back where they belonged. I fed them down a 4” inch pipe into a tiny hole I had enlarged in the central wire cage. All was completed with the Klargester working properly and the mess cleared up with just a few minutes to spare before the visitors arrived! What a glorious Xmas job.!!

The sale of mistletoe in Cock Lane was a little disappointing compared to last year. I think with the financial strain many are under; it was not considered a necessity. The field fares and redwings arrived early in November and quickly stripped the hawthorn and holly trees of their berries. I was unable to put a bit of colour in with the mistletoe. I thank Margaret and John for putting up with the hassle. I have sent £55 to Cancer Research which is £39 from roadside sales, and private sales. RABI have received £100 and the Cancer shop in Ashford was busy selling it too. I hope over £200 will go to charity.

I was challenged to give my wife flowers at the Remembrance Day service. I did almost! I picked a primrose on Christmas day for a button hole. On warm evenings we have watched bats flying. The forecast is for snow tonight. All change again.

Peter Sillibourne

As I see it on the land – December 2022

Just as I thought the wheat crop was all set to grow through the winter without further attention, the agronomist arrives, inspects, and gives more recommendations. Due to the continued warm weather aphids have put in an appearance and have become a real danger to infecting the plants with disease. Luckily the wind dropped over the remembrance weekend and Mark managed to spray all the fields before the rains came on Monday. I have recorded 6” of rain this month already. The back drain is flowing over its banks at Ruckinge and the field is flooding.

Water logged fields have been one of the reasons for our latest purchase. We normally hire a digger, with driver, to carry out maintenance work on our ditches. It now costs £500 a day to hire. However, the man is often so busy with a list of work stretching weeks ahead, that he is difficult to get onto the farm when one wants a job done tomorrow!! He put one of his smaller diggers up for sale (one careful owner!!). Mark quickly agreed a sale and the machine was soon transported to Ruckinge and put to work in a field along the canal. Badgers, on a neighbours’ field, had excavated the dirt from their setts into the boundary ditch blocking the passage of water from about 5 acres. Mark started excavating mud and reed out of the ditch exposing the land drains. He bought two six metre pipes to put into the ditch where the badgers were burrowing so that the water could pass through on its journey to the canal, whilst the badgers could keep extending their homes. It was an expense we could have done without, but the water now flows freely and the drains will continue to do their job. The spoil, of which there is a lot, will get spread or moved when it has dried out next summer. One bonus was that we didn’t have to pay for a days’ hire, so have started to recoup some of the capital cost of the digger!

The green cover crops have excelled since the rains arrived and should provide some good feed for sheep in the near future. It will need to dry a lot before feeding or else it will get trodden in and wasted.

 Mistletoe. Last year I sold mistletoe from a board outside Rectory Close next to the rectory in Cock Lane. All proceeds will go to Cancer Research. If you purchase mistletoe early you must store it outdoors and keep it wet/moist. It does not like heat. It is expensive to buy at garden centres. We would ask for a minimum donation of £2. If you want to order for a specific date ring 732615.

Locked down, again. Last year our poultry spent a miserable winter in a small shed that was only meant to be a safe sleeping place. When I heard Avian Flu was rapidly increasing in the country, spreading across East Anglia towards The Thames and all around the coast, I thought it was time to say goodbye to the hens that were well over two years old and only laying a few eggs. I slaughtered those that I thought weren’t laying but retained the five best looking ones in the hope of getting a few more eggs.

The Government ordered all hens in the country to be kept indoors from November 7th. whether it was just one in somebodies garden, or hundreds on a poultry farm.

I put the 5 indoors and in the first week they stopped laying. No eggs in five days, so it was time to go.

I had struggled to find a new supplier of ‘point of lay’ pullets earlier in the summer, because the normal supplier had stopped keeping poultry, unable to cover their costs. I found a new source near Canterbury and ordered 15 birds instead of my normal 25. I could not face keeping too many indoors again so reduced the number so they were not crowded should avian flu come again. They now sit on their perches looking out of the window unable to understand why they cannot go out onto grass.

Lack of eggs in shops has been making news this week, with empty shelves or restricted purchasing. Tens of thousands of birds have been killed across the country to prevent the spread of the avian flu. Obviously, it will make a small dent in supply but I think there are about 40 million laying birds. Eggs are reportedly being bought from countries without the high standards of welfare required for poultry producers in the UK. It is ironic that there are government guidelines on how to improve the life of poultry.

Wheat prices have dropped dramatically from the high £300 in the spring and have settled to around £260 per tonne. Much depends on what Putin allows or disrupts. It will be interesting to see if this reduction is passed onto the bakers and food manufactures or retained to lift their profits. Milk no longer seems to be the loss leader that it once was. A pint now costs 89p although 4 pints are available for £1.65. Why such a vast disadvantage for a single person?

Firewood. I have 0.5 cubic metre builders’ bags of poplar/black beam logs for sale at £55 a bag. It has been barn stored for over two years. Dry, burns well, but quickly, with a lot of heat. Hard wood, burns slowly, at £75 a 0.5 cubic metre bag. I will deliver locally.

I was sorry to hear from two different campers that they had seen a black mink on the sewer alongside our drive. Not good news for wildlife.

Best wishes for Christmas and the New Year.

Peter Sillibourne

As I See it on the Land – November 2022

Having been restricted to the farmstead I can only report on what I have been told rather than seen. The rain showers came in time for the cover crops to germinate and good growth is taking place, so there should be grazing for some sheep early next year before the spring sowing of linseed. Livestock farmers really have had a tough time and despite the rain and fresh growth of grass it has come too late. Both sheep and cattle are receiving extra dry food to supplement the grass. Ewes are being prepared to say ‘hello mate’ to the rams, and a new livestock year will start. Prices for store lambs have not been as strong as last year because of the nervousness of the farmers who purchase them to fatten during the autumn and spring. There is the worry of not enough grazing food being available, meaning costly cereals will need to be fed. Also unknown is what the demand might be in the future for meat with food inflation and the squeeze on incomes. Anyone got a glass ball?

Mark cut all the hedge boundaries in the fields due to be sown this autumn. Our field adjacent to the Kitsbridge Pumpimg Station along the Royal Military canal has been called ‘The Willows’ since the early 70’s. Under a government drainage scheme 4 fields were amalgamated. One of them had a central pond with three gullies which radiated out from it. Three mature willows on one of the boundaries were retained in the middle of the new field, which was then named The Willows. For nearly fifty years tractor drivers have cursed the trees which prevented straight runs across the field for machinery and sprayers, causing extra work travelling around them. Now fully mature, nature and a disease, has taken over. One tree died last year with a second one 90% dead this year. The disease seems to be rife across mature willow trees on Romney Marsh. The tops of the trees die, similar to ash dieback, and eventually weaken and are often blown over or snap. In my absence Mark has felled and burnt the two dead ones. A new name will soon be required. The willows in my garden are in the same state and await the attention of a tree surgeon before they topple on the buildings.

Mark started drilling winter wheat seed in the fields we look after at Woodchurch, well before the end of September. He was confident that there were few black grass seeds germinating to be a problem. Where blackgrass is in abundance farmers are advised to delay drilling so that they can be controlled properly before planting takes place preferably in November. He said the ground was in good condition and it was a pleasure to drill without any wet spots. The flat ground alongside of the wood, near the organic farm shop, is notoriously wet, with the public footpath crossing the worst wet area. I suspect an unofficial path will be created again by the local residents where it is drier.

Mark continued drilling at Hamstreet and gradually moved across the farm finishing in the field by the farm buildings by the 9th October. The showers have helped with germination and all the fields are showing green with the rows showing up through the linseed stalks left by the combine. The slugs, which I am an expert at farming, have had to have two applications of pellets to keep them under control. A pre-emergence spray has been applied to take care of weeds and all looks set for a good start on half of the farm for the 2023 arable year.

The hedge cutter is back on the tractor and the winter trim along the roadside hedges has started.

I have never had so much interest, from so many people, in the roof of my bungalow, whether it’s the loft insulation or the solar panels. The phone rings and a request is made to speak to the owner. Quickly confirmed.

The latest scam phone call started “I am the energy officer for TN26”. Well, I could do with some energy, Goodbye, (it might not have been quite so polite). I did not know Ashford Bor. C had an energy adviser? It is a shame our shambles of a government could not make this phoning illegal. Someone must get caught out or else the practise would cease.

My solar panels seem to be in constant need of servicing. I can never get the caller to understand that they were erected by an electrical firm in my village and that they will be the first business I will call upon if I need help. They all seem to read from the same script and never listen to what you say. I wish I knew how to stop the calls. Sometimes numbers are withheld, or they come from afar.  I often say I can’t understand them, could they start again as I am hard of hearing. The neighbourhood watch advisor warns everyone to be very careful of these calls and do not get into conversation with them. They are after your personal details.

The summer has passed and I have only seen one snake all year, which was during a warm spell in early spring, when we moved a log, it was hibernating under. We normally find snake eggs that have been laid in our manure heap. There is plenty of clutter, dead tree trunks etc. for them to hide under around the farmstead. Last year I think I had sightings of 9 snakes in different locations. After such a dry, warm summer, why none? Is it another part of nature that is declining rapidly. We did see two glow worms near the Scout HQ.

This week I have been given permission by my surgeon to start work again but to pace myself. I don’t know how ‘slow’ will speed up!!! Doubtful. There is plenty of autumn work to do in the garden, caravan site and holiday let. The holiday let has been busy all summer and is only just easing off a little. We are looking for a reliable cleaner. There are probably 100 tonnes of wood in the sheds waiting to be logged. There is mistletoe in abundance waiting for Christmas. Plenty to do.

Peter Sillibourne


As I See it on the Land – October 2022

Whilst the ground was rock hard, we took the opportunity to get access to the pond opposite the Granary on Ash Hill where a large poplar tree had lain across the pond for over 18 months. It had been blown over months ago and had remained alive with its roots firmly anchored in the bank, waiting to be extracted from the water. The pond was nearly dry but with plenty of smelly mud! We gradually cut branches off and the Matbro eventually struggled to pull the trunk and root out of the bank. With the ground tinder dry we were unable to burn the brushwood so we had to carry it back to the farm. The trunk and root were as much as the Matbro could lift.

We also filled some very dangerous holes on the footpath behind the Scout HQ. with soil. They were where the badgers had excavated tunnels deep down and the ground had collapsed. The second hole took a whole tractor bucket load to fill. I thought we had made the path safe. However, as I passed back over it the ground gave way under the tractor and another bucket load of earth was required. It is an interesting issue. We are responsible for maintaining footpaths on our land and keeping them in a safe condition. What happens if somebody falls down a hole deep enough to hide a child? We are not allowed to interfere with badger setts. There are over 20 holes in this field alone. My soil is being moved over the boundary into the neighbours.

After finishing our oat harvest, we watched farmers across the marsh creating clouds of dust as they tried to create a seed bed ready to plant oilseed rape as soon as rain arrived. After a couple of weeks, Mark lost his nerve to wait any longer because there would not be enough time to do all the drilling. He drilled a cover crop into the fields north of the canal where the soil was kinder to the drill.

At last. Small amounts of rain arrived on the 5th, 6th, & 7th September, followed by nearly an inch on each of the following two days. The initial showers dampened the surface of both the stubble fields and the dry grass fields sufficient to allow us to have a large fire without endangering the countryside. We had just three afternoons in which to collect together all the brushwood from the storm blown trees in the spring. It was surprising just how many trees had been destroyed across the camp fields at Hogtub. We piled the branches over the top of one large ash tree stump/root and over the course of 3 days completely burnt it out. Time, and the diameter of an oak trunk, too large for my chain saw, bought the activity to a close.

Once the rain came, Mark drilled all the fields needing a cover crop on the marsh. The linseed, still not harvested, burst into flower when the rain came, so a dose of chemical was applied to kill the new growth. The coursing fraternity had to drive through the crop one night but appeared to have given up either unable to see any hares, or it was too difficult for the greyhounds to run in.

As I write today (Saturday 17th) the combine is harvesting on a bright, dry day and I have received news that the crop is performing above my expectation, somewhere between 15 to 20 cwt an acre. That will be an excellent end to this years protracted harvest.

A mobile seed cleaning machine is due at the grain store this coming week to prepare some of our harvested wheat for planting next year’s crop. This planting should be under way by the end of the month.

One night at the end of August I was just shutting down for the night at 11pm when two well illuminated vehicles were coming up the drive. We watched them pass the farm on camera. They made their way across the Byway to Hamstreet Canal bridge. They travelled slowly taking about 15mins., obviously not worried about being seen, unlike the visitors who came in darkness across the fields and stole a neighbour’s truck and quad bike from the farm yard. In the morning we found large lumps of yellow wealden clay splattered up our drive and on the road to the village. They were off-roaders. People who delight in spoiling the byways and tracks in the wood. They must have trespassed to have found mud in such a dry year. They are banned from the local byways in the woods from October to April. The government is looking into to whether more controls should be put on vehicles to prevent damage to green lanes.

Our yucca has had six splendid blooms this year, with another just about to start shooting upwards. In 50 years we have never seen it so magnificent. It must like the heat? I have had my operation and I am taking an enforced break to recover. I look forward to returning to work to make a start on log cutting.

Peter Sillibourne




As I See it on the Land – September 2022

What idiot wrote this article last month?

I was informed harvest was several days away when I was writing the piece. Searing heat for a few days transformed the situation. The ears of the wheat were rapidly dried and ripened by the sun. The straw was still green and yet harvest was fast approaching. The combine started in the fields of our neighbour, with whom we share the machine, near Steeds Lane. It then moved into our wheat fields adjacent to the Royal Military canal. Yields were way above our expectation after such a dry time. The combine recorded yields in excess of 4 tonnes an acre.

Most of our straw is chopped by the combine. However, two mixed farming neighbours have about 20 acres each of straw from us to bale for their cattle. I am told that the cattle, currently living on bare ground, are relishing the green straw which would normally be used for bedding.

For the second year running I have been made redundant from harvest tractor driving. My lack of speed and agility makes me a hinderance, I gather, and I have to keep out of the way. I am still a ‘gofer’ when needed! Modern harvesting is done at such a speed when everything works well. The wheat harvest was completed in July for the first time. The spring oats were ready during the second week of August. They averaged around 2.5 tonnes an acre. Considering they had received very little moisture since drilling we were pleased with the result. They should go for milling and have been transported to the Weald Granary store at Mereworth. The wheat test results show a sample with a good Hagberg, but a little low on protein which means it is not perfect for bread making (sorry Willesborough Windmill). This is a national problem. It will either get mixed with a better sample, often Canadian wheat, or go for biscuits. Whatever happens it is better than feed wheat.

We still have a lot of linseed to harvest, which is very uneven ripening. It has flowered over several weeks. I am told the intention is to hire a special machine that will be attached to the combine header (the front bit) and strip just the seed heads off leaving the wiry stalks standing, to rot away during the winter months whilst a crop of wheat will be sown through it.

Livestock everywhere are struggling for food and a water supply. I feel sorry for farmers who have lost crops because of fire. I received a phone call last weekend, “did I own the sheep off Ash Hill”. No, but I know who does, once we had established the where part. “There is a lamb stuck in a pond, head above the mud, still alive. We have called the fire brigade”. I rang the owner who arrived at the pond after two fire engines that had travelled from Faversham had already rescued it. A rather large public expenditure which could have been avoided, when it could have been done easily by the owner. Grateful for the alert, but wondering how it was seen from a footpath? This reminds me of the miss use of foot paths and trespass. We have been fortunate that the sheep that were given access to our wheat fields east of Ash Hill through a gate left open by someone belonged to another farmer. Through his insurance company, the NFU, we have received compensation for the loss. The owner is threatening to make it impossible for people to have illegal access to his field at that point. There is a footpath already along his boundary.

Today, 21st, a morning phone call to say sheep are coming down the Scout Hut drive. I drive up quickly to find they had been chased back up into the field by villagers and the gate shut. Unaware of any animals in my field I went to investigate. There were in excess of 3 hundred hungry and thirsty sheep at the top of the field, several had been in the pond. They had come over the fence from my brother’s field, having escaped from Turves Farm. The owner was traced to Mersham. Nearly all the ponds are dry on the hills with the wild life struggling or dying.

Sunday 24th July, early am call to say we have a burst water pipe opposite Munn Cottage. The water coming out of the house tap was dirty. Travelled the mile to find the mains had blown off our water meter. Water gushing out straight into the ditch. Turned our pipe off. Returned home to phone East Kent Water to report the burst, only to be told we were commercial not residential, they could not deal with it. “What should we do for water in two houses and five caravans?”. “Go to your shop and buy water” was the reply. Unbelievable. Water was purchased and distributed around. Monday we were put through to the commercial department who sent a man to look. He said turn the tap back on, because enough dirt will have been cleared out of the pit by the burst, so we should get some supply. We did, but it was very slow. Insufficient to run a washing machine or dishwasher, but enough to draw off for a kettle. Clare took over the phoning, and we were told nothing would happen for a week, because they needed to apply for a road closure with the Highways Dept. Then we were told it would be repaired on Thursday. Wednesday afternoon it was quietly and quickly repaired with no fuss.

The holiday let was dependant on a good supply of water to run everything. They only had a kettle to boil water for drinks, washing up and personal health. We provided water to pour into the cistern to flush the loo. After 3 days they abandoned their holiday.

A visitor to the farm on Friday saw a hummingbird moth on a salvia in the garden of the holiday let. He said he had only ever seen one in his life. I said we had plenty and proceeded to show him nine without travelling around the whole garden.

My MRI scan showed a torn cartilage and I am having an arthroscopy operation in three weeks’ time and an enforced holiday.

Peter Sillibourne