As I See it on the Land – March 2021

A bitterly cold week has dramatically changed the oilseed rape crop. What looked a very strong plant has suddenly lost its outer leaves and the growing centre is now exposed to feed the pigeons. Unfortunately, we have had to resort to using noisy bird scarers, but Mark has been able to purchase an addition to add to the guns that allows better control of the time and frequency of the bangs. Hopefully it will not be too much of an interference to the locals and we won’t have to use them for too long. Most years nitrogen would be applied to the crop soon and then rapid growth would push the crop ahead of the birds, but we will have to wait for field and weather conditions to improve.

The cold will hopefully help kill the aphids which will be a bonus for the wheat crops keeping them free from disease.

Our free-range chicken have had to be kept indoors since early December to comply with the law. All poultry in the country should be kept indoors, or under a net, by order of the government, to prevent them getting Avian flu, which is brought into the country by migrant birds. At the moment there are just over 20 cases of avian flu in the country, where DEFRA have slaughtered the entire flock to prevent a further spread of the flu.

Our birds are not happy being restrained indoors during the day. They would much rather be outside even when it is wet and muddy! Boredom is beginning to be a problem and they can bully one another and become cannibals. They peck the backside out. I have had to despatch one already, and I look forward to being able to let them out during the day asap. This can be a problem in all sized flocks.

Their water drinkers have frozen solid during the last three nights. Just a small inconvenience, but it reminds me of all the pipes freezing in the lambing sheds during previous cold years. I feel relieved not to have the job of thawing pipe work and drinkers throughout the buildings. I am even more relieved not to be lambing under such extreme conditions.

Dogs and sheep do not go together well, unless the dogs are trained to work sheep or are on a lead. Ashley Homewood, who keeps sheep on the grass fields near Horton Green, suffered a dog attack on his ewes two weeks ago. Five ewes had had their backsides eaten. Four ewes had to be put down, whilst one ewe has been treated with antibiotics and given the chance to recover. The flock were all in lamb and there is no way of knowing how much damage, or loss of foetuses’, has been done until they are due to give birth. This is an expensive loss. Somebody will probably be aware that their dog has been involved. The ewes are now very nervous of dogs. Two footpaths cross the field.

This leads me onto the subject of people being where they have no right to be. I have been pleased to see people out using the footpaths, but I now find walkers going wherever they decide they want to go, despite there being no public footpaths. At the moment there is no “right to roam” in this part of the country.

I intercepted a group of walkers, and three dogs, going around the outside of a field heading towards my garden gate. I pointed out they were not on a footpath. They said they had not seen one. I accompanied them back to where they had crossed over a ditch on a very substantial bridge. Right in front of the bridge was a sprayed out, fully marked footpath across the middle of a wheat field. They declined to follow the FP and returned whence they had come. I suspect that they did not want to cross a wet muddy arable field.

On another occasion I met a man with a dog crossing a culvert from a neighbours. When I politely informed him, the Byway was on the other side of the sewer and there was no footpath where he was. He informed me everybody used this side. On the advice of the NFU I have purchased some “private, no public right of way” notices to deter people straying from the designated routes. We do not want people claiming they have walked a certain route for ex number of years and it is a public footpath. The frequent disturbance around the fields by walkers and loose dogs give the wildlife little chance of thriving and can damages crops.

Parish Council meetings are currently conducted via zoom, which isn’t quite the same as looking at one another across a table. A planning application that created much discussion was Hans Farm.

Hans Farm, along Tarpot Lane, has been sold and is being cleaned up after years of neglect. There is planning permission for one building to be converted to a house. Only a few acres remain with the house, and the buildings are surplus to what is required for the land. A planning application is currently being sought for a change of use. If this farm follows a similar development path to what happened at Fairview Farm and Meadow View Farm, along the B2067, there will be a lot of traffic using a very narrow, poorly maintained road. Access to the farm is given as via the B2067, down Marsh Road over an 18-tonne weight limit bridge, and then into Tarpot Lane. I think some passing places should be considered in the planning application, or else there will be damaged verges, and some backing up of vehicles.

We had a solitary daffodil in bloom at Christmas. Several were out in bloom prior to the cold, but the wind has felled them. They have buckled over and look very sad along with many other plants. Roll on proper spring.

Peter Sillibourne