Locks Park is thought by some to be rather special. When visiting ecologists, environmentalists and conservationists ooh and ahh over our flower-filled meadows, the butterflies, birds and bees, the richness and diversity of the wildlife, hedgerows and pastures I feel privileged to live and farm such a piece of land. But I’m also made to feel culpable. When completing the infamous Higher Level Stewardship application I was brought to task over keeping sheep and ‘lost points’ as this is considered detrimental to the wildlife.
‘Bbbut’ I stammered ‘Sheep are good little farmers. They aerate the soils, break open rush clumps, encourage other plant species. Mixed grazing is important for many reasons too. And …’
I was cut short. Sheep, I was informed, eat flowers, so are unwelcome.
I also have too many cattle. More points lost. What about replenishing nutrients in depleted soils, sensitively of course, as in dung spreading and liming? Frowned upon.

I’m told that farms like this have always been subsistence farms. Minimal stock was kept, I mean just look at the buildings. Proves a point really.

I scratched my head and thought ‘I wonder. I’ll ask Elli’. Elli is the daughter of the couple we bought the farm from eighteen years ago. Elli is enthusiastic and a keen member of the community. Athletic, up before the crack of dawn and when not working all god’s hours she’s often seen cycling up three-in-one hills with her graceful dog Mel beside her. Her father, George, came to Locks Park when he was a small boy of six and seamlessly took over farming it from his father and mother when they retired. Elli has a deep affinity for the place. She remembers well the stories her grandparents and father told of their lives here. She reminisces on those fabled forever, long hot summers and winters of snow and icicles. Helping out on the farm throughout her childhood she continued even after she’d left and married running her sheep on the Rutleighs. She loves the place and I believe if circumstances had been different she would have gladly taken over from her parents.

I knew she would know exactly what was farmed here and how – it’s part of her very being, her core. “Well now, twenty-five to thirty milking cows. They were up at the house and in all winter. Followers, young stock and the like: we wintered them out on the bottom of Scadsbury. Never in. Again twenty-five to thirty. You know max, Paula.”

the out-wintering land, Scadsbury meadow

Scadsbury was forty acres of rented land. Land, unfortunately, we never managed to acquire, and the out-wintering field she was talking about is the most glorious ten acres of flower-filled culm.

“The cows were grazed at home on Top, Flop, Little Hill, Five Acres, Dung and Rushy. Followers continued over at Scadsbury, you know, when the grass came on in the better fields.”

She went on to say they never brought in any forage, cutting it all at Locks. Fertiliser, 20-10-10, was applied, sparingly of course, as well as lime and slag when needed.
“Even on Dillings?” I chip in. Dillings being our ultra special flower filled meadow.
“Yes, yes, of course.”
They used to bale up rushes for bedding and she can’t remember them ever buying in straw. “Nothing was ever tilled at Locks, too wet, not even in the war. Yes, I know I’m right, though I think they once did a small piece over Scadsbury and we must’ve baled that as straw.”

And sheep? “Oh, eighty ewes give or take.”’

So who’s right? These small, beautiful, diverse farms were working, commercial farms. We’ve been left a legacy that no money can create. Should we now treat their land as museum pieces – to be polished and treated with kid gloves, or should we too work them to provide food and income, allowing them to reflect the character of our age, not ages past?

An afterthought. I believe I’m trying to express my idea of what I feel is wondrous and astonishing. So let me try and find an analogy. To me true beauty in a human has nothing to do with the plastic nip and tucked, contrived, gleaming and polished doll-like exterior we are apparently meant to aspire to in today’s consumer-driven/celebrity-culture existence. True beauty is an extraordinary mix of the physical and metaphysical, the body and soul to use a well worn phrase. A magnetic pull towards a radiating working energy. Not a self-serving manufactured appearance deprived of age or history. So if you can translate these clumsy thought images to farms (the physical) and nature (the spirit) maybe you’ll have an inkling of what I’m trying to express.

flowers in Dillings