Yesterday felt special.
Blue sky streaked with soft mare’s tails left by watery brush strokes. Clean, bright air full of warm honey-bread-fragranced grasses and delicate green-tea scented blossoms – a day when you breathe in, and in, and in. The colours clear and crystal-sparkly. Bird song filled the air, the soft lowing from a cow calling to her baby and the distant humming drone and clank of a tractor working. It made me smile.
I walk, the dogs scuttering and bounding in front of me, surprising the odd hiding pheasant which explodes into the air with loud chuck, chuck, chuck. Spears of southern marsh and spotted heath orchids peeping through young green stems of purple moor grass. Meadow thistle, bugle, tormentil, hay rattle and ragged robin flowering amongst the earlier lousewort and vetches. Huge dragonflies blunder past me with the whirr of old propeller aircraft as butterflies flit and dance silently overhead.
Idyllic, glorious, extraordinary. Yes, all of these…
Special, unique, exceptional. And that too…
Rare, uncommon, unusual. But of course…
One thing these beautiful meadows of mine don’t do very well is produce grass for my stock. Yes, it’s true there is some summer grazing, but the grazing is more use to the flowers than my stock. Yes, it’s also true that herb-rich pastures give a superb taste to our beef and lamb. But they are not productive, so my stocking rate has to be very low.
Locks Park has been under a green farming scheme, Countryside Stewardship, since early nineties in recognition of the wildlife and landscape we’re producing alongside top quality food. This payment meant the difference between profit and loss on the farm. So, you can imagine what I felt when my application for the new scheme, Higher Level Stewardship (HLS), was rejected recently.
Locks Park is not alone in this, the budget being a fraction of what it should be in the West Country. Along with many others, we find ourselves having to re-appraise our land management and may have to let our neighbours have the grazing, taking advantage of economies of scale. Or another option, seen more and more in the farming community, is to sell to incomers who don’t need to make a living from the land.
Ironically and perversely the money would more than probably be up for grabs…for restoration…if I ploughed the whole bang lot up !
So there we are. I hope someone will take note and that the good budget settlement from Europe and the Treasury will mean that applications like ours are reconsidered. If not, then before long my walks may be less filled with flowers, the countryside the poorer.