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