Last year, we documented the highs and lows of a year on a British farm, from the cold winter mornings feeding in January to the joys of Spring lambs and dealing with an exceptionally hot summer in July. This year, we are going to explore different elements of the farm in more detail. To begin with, let us take you on a tour of the farm; the lay of the land.
Our little bit of England
Sarah is a hard-working third-generation farmer who aptly describes her farm as ‘Our little bit of England that we try and look after as best as we possibly can.’. It is made up of 150 acres of Buckinghamshire countryside and a variety of different types of fields which all have their part to play.
‘Bottom field, top field, blacksmiths, new England, barn field, banking field, hill field, long field, bottom of the ridge field, backfield, front field, whatever field and a couple of orchards thrown in!’Sarah
In this first video, we touch upon the part our farm had to play in the war effort when rationing was in place and food much less available than it is today. The main reason for limiting what everybody could buy in the Second World War was the huge reliance Britain had on imported food which was sure to be threatened on it’s route to the home front.
The War Agricultural Executive Committee, better known as the War Ag, was reinstated in 1939 to manage increased food production on British farms. Mangelwurzels were planted in our Blacksmith’s field, as it’s growing conditions were as good then as they are today, for ‘everybody had to pull together’.
The ‘Dig for Victory’ campaign also meant non-farming households, village greens and school land, amongst others, also began to produce their own food by community effort. The combination of the War Ag’s focus on improving farm output and more allotments meant Britain halved food imports by the end of the World War.
‘Interest in growing your own fruit and vegetables has never been stronger since the WW2 Grow for Victory campaign’The National Allotment Society
Still digging for victory.
Allotments are having a resurgence in the present day, due to an increased focus on sustainability, reducing food air miles and the benefits of returning to our land and working together to produce healthy seasonal produce. There has also been a sharp rise in the use of food banks in Britain this year and groups of volunteers are working to get fresh food onto the tables of the most vulnerable in society. You can read many of their stories here.
Buy local, grow your own
Community gardens, such as OrganicLea in London, are working towards ‘a fair income to food producers and guarantee the rights of communities to access healthy and nutritious food’. For individuals, the National Allotment Society is a great community platform which celebrates National Allotment Week every August. The 2018 theme was ‘Shared Harvest’, which aimed to shine a spotlight on ‘plot-holders who share their crops with family, friends, colleagues and worthy causes, including food banks’. We wholeheartedly encourage people to buy local, grow your own or seek out your local farm shop and sustainable food initiatives.
The patchwork shades of green which are so familiar in the English countryside / The patchwork shades of green
The atmospheric aerial views of our farm, as you can see in this month’s video, show the fields divided by hedges which create the patchwork shades of green which are so familiar in the English countryside. Although the ‘hedge laying police’ is not strictly real there are many experts in the field who are well trained in this traditional trade. They would not recommend pallets and hurdles as the key ingredient for laying your own hedge, the Wildlife Trust has a brilliant guide here with seasonal instructions to create your own natural borders.
Hedgerows are a haven for wildlife.
The primary purpose of the hedgerows is to define our boundaries and keep the cattle and sheep in their fields; the farm stock could be seen relaxing next to the field edges for shade all day long in the very hot summer last year. Hedgerows are also a haven for wildlife, including nesting birds, and provide shelter and food for many of our native species, including hedgehogs.
‘Badgers are a valued species in the UK, protected by law. 25% of the European population is found in the UK, so we have an international responsibility to conserve them.’The Wildlife Trust
Another animal’s habitat in the ridge field we visit in this month’s video is the industrious family of badgers and their sett. They live harmoniously with our cattle, minus the potholes, but badgers are a contentious subject in areas where the infection is endemic.
As Sarah explains in the video, bovine TB is a disease which tragically calls for all infected cattle, sometimes all non-infected as well, to be culled therefore destroying a farmers livelihood.
The vaccination to prevent bovine TB cannot be used on cattle currently as it is not accredited, due to the interference in results of the tuberculin skin test used to diagnose the disease. The Wildlife Trust is calling for badger culling to be banned and instead continue their work in vaccinating badgers, which is significantly cheaper than culling them. You can read more about it here.
So close together, yet so different.
She knows what each is good at and when; strategy.
In the winter home of the farm’s cattle, the Barn Field, we have a ridge and furrow landscape with old roots in the history of the land. The ridges are relics of ploughing strategies used in the Middle Ages; which saw typically one family per strip in an open field system using a non-reversible plough which piled up the soil in the centre to create the ridges. These ridges stayed dry, as they do today though they were much higher back then, which creates a clever drainage system to self irrigate the crops. Examples of ridge and furrow fields can only be seen on grassland like ours which is no longer ploughed.
We hope you enjoyed getting to know the lay of our land this month; the fields and their inhabitants which make up the family farm. We take huge pride in the history and knowledge of these fields, as Brenda Sutton Rose poetically concludes:
“This land pulses with life. It breathes in me; it breathes around me; it breathes in spite of me. When I walk on this land, I am walking on the heartbeat of the past and the future. And that’s only one of the reasons I am a farmer.”