Where there is uncertainty there will be opportunity

Writers Posted 14/09/20
Lack of water in our rivers concerns me.

Today I got a bonus. It’s not quite in the league of bonuses that city bankers receive, but it brightened up my routine lookering. Mushrooms, they’ve appeared overnight, bright white domed heads peeping out from the grass, with stout stalks and beautifully formed delicate pinkish undersides. Mushrooms on toast for lunch, a gastronomic delight.

On the third attempt, we’ve finally managed to wean all the lambs successfully. The 2020 batch have been very resourceful and persistent in their attempts to reunite with their mothers. On the second go, I enlisted family help by supplying food and wine. By the third go, I couldn’t face telling the family, so we managed ourselves; anyway the sheep seemed to know the form. One good thing about this year is that there is no shortage of tight grazing to put ewes on to dry off. Finding lush grazing for the lambs is another matter. Finished lamb prices are holding up well – long may it last.

There have been reports of large numbers of dead fish floating in the Cuckmere Haven. The cause has been attributed to hot weather and lack of oxygen in the low water levels. Not dredging in the river mouth, restricting water flow, has caused worse flooding in winter and more drought conditions during the summer. It’s a beautiful valley and a popular leisure destination, but the visitors are complaining on social media about the resulting smell.

Our animals on the Pevensey Levels graze on the banks of the Wallers Haven. I’ve noticed a few dead fish in here. This river feeds the old haven and a whole system of dykes on the marshes, which generally divides the land. This year the water level is so low in the Wallers that it is below the feed pipe, and consequently most of the dykes have dried out to such an extent that the cattle simply walk through them. We’ve brought the bull home. Its not been easy keeping track of the cattle as they keep swapping groups. It’s like ranch farming.

The worst consequence of these conditions is that when a cow breaks through the dried-out surface of the dyke, it gets sucked into the quagmire underneath. We gained first-hand experience of this on Sunday morning. Luckily the cow bellowed and her calf standing on the bank alerted us to her whereabouts. As we viewed her predicament with horror, a British Blue cow apologetically gazed back at us anxiously, while we considered how best to get her out. The sides of the bank were steep, and when I stuck my long handled crook down beside the cow to establish the depth, it disappeared out of sight.

To revive her spirits I offered her some food which she ate; this seemed hopeful. Tractor and fore-loader were fetched. The next problem was how to get straps under her. This was messy; we tried various methods, but the one that worked was string fed through a length of blue pipe which was pushed underneath her and which I then hooked up with the crook. Wide lifting straps were then hauled through beneath her and attached to the fore-loader. I put a halter on her which I held to control her head. Nigel operated the tractor and other half gave instructions; she came close to slipping through the straps and falling backwards into the hole. Thankfully it ended happily and she got up remarkably quickly. Her calf ran off, not being overly impressed by the apparition that was retrieved from the dyke.

Lack of water in our rivers concerns me. In this area it’s clearly having an impact on our countryside. Water is taken from the Wallers Haven and treated at Hazards Green, from where South East Water then supplies households. Towns and villages in the South East are having new houses foisted on them, but is there enough water in this area to sustain all these extra water users? Leaving politics aside, the roads around here are already overcrowded. Agreed, houses are needed, but in a changing climate, is there going to be enough water? Wouldn’t it be better to build in areas where there’s better infrastructure and higher rainfall?

Action on the farm goes on, the last of the harvest is gathered in, the hedge cutter is on and the autumn rush begins. Meanwhile Brexit talk seems to be edging up the agenda, Covid-19 is still lurking in the wings and discussion about the Environmental Land Management scheme and how it will all work creates uncertainty. Farmers will need to draw on their resilience, plan for the worst and hope for the best. Where there is uncertainty there will be opportunity. Everyone needs to eat. I find it disappointing that the evolving agricultural policy puts so little emphasis on food production. Surely most farmers care for the environment and naturally want to improve their land.

Those that enter farming with the attitude that they can make big money fast are likely to be in for a shock. Many well-known celebrities have bought farms, and as someone in the market commented: “A farm will absorb all the money you can throw at it”. If farmers factored in their time spent working on the farm, I’m sure it would put a dent in their profit margin. To a certain extent farming will always be a way of life and carry with it a love of the land. Equally there are not many doctors or nurses that work in the NHS just for the money.

I’m a great admirer of Mary Berry. I was intrigued to read that as a child she had a passion for piglets, so now I like her even more. In early childhood we didn’t have a TV; for my entertainment I was addicted to watching sows farrowing. I was puzzled by the reaction of a family friend who was staying over when I placed the cutest little piglet in bed with her. I thought she’d be pleased. Even in those days I didn’t always get it right.


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