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female orange tip butterfly on lady's smock

female orange tip butterfly on lady's smock

May, extraordinary exuberant May. How can anyone fail to be blown away by such a stunning month? I walk with my eyes out on stalks. They sweep across the multi-layers of a green-gold filigree landscape and down to minute iridescent creatures nestled in the heart of a buttercup. Every sense is tingled and tweezed.

the tiny micropterix calthella moth on a buttercup

the tiny micropterix calthella moth on a buttercup. See the mating pair?

The scent of blossoms is exquisite yet elusive, I catch a wisp, a suggestion – then it’s gone – I find myself sniffing, head up like a wild animal. Greens, there are so many and each with its own aroma; nasal sharp and acid citrus-bright, crushed bitter-sweet liquor and garlic-pungent aromatics – I taste each smell on my tongue.

bog-bean blooming in Rob's Folly - Forty Acres

*bog-bean blooming in Rob's Folly - Forty Acres

I become sensitised to sound. Like a tuning fork I pick up the buzz and whir of the insect world under the constant celebration of bird song. The steady bass drone of the bumble bee, the frenetic high-pitched whine of the midge and the scary cacophony of a billion cluster flies taking off from the thatch as the sun pops out from behind a cloud. Fragile daddy-long-legs flip-flap knocking and bumping with flimsy clumsiness and March flies thistledown around your head, sticking in your hair, eyes and lips.

blue tit nest and eggs in birdbox

blue tit nest and eggs in birdbox

Life’s abundant. It’s everywhere.  There’s a continuous rustling and scurrying in the trees, hedgerows and verges. And did you know we’ve hares in the far River Meadow? I’m so excited; it’s unusual for this non-arable part of the world.  And the Hobby is back!

*Interesting links to bogbean also this one for Sian!

turnout 29 April - in Cow Moor with some of the herd

turnout 29 April - in Cow Moor with some of the herd

It’s done – they’re out! Well, bar a handful of dry cows that’ll stay in to finish the remains of opened haylage bales.

I expected the new bull might be tricky to move. Buying him when I did last autumn he didn’t have an opportunity to run with the herd and he isn’t familiar with our farm or boundaries. Apart from which frustration and hormonal overload could make him very unpredictable. Not counting his twelve hour steamy sexathon with Severn back last September he’s been denied sex and those tantalising teasing heifers have been keeping him on his toes!

appraising...

appraising...

He came out of his pen as if ignited by rocket fuel. The almost-tonne of him bucked, kicked and charged through the cow palace roaring like the minotaur himself. And those saucy heifers with their come-hither eyes? Not so quick to throw their knickers at him now – they backed into the furthest corner of their pen, huddled and quaking, refusing to budge and inch!

We eventually persuaded them out of their corner and into the yard to face their bête noir. We then brought the cows and new calves into the group and were ready for the off.

I shout from inside the cow palace “Okay, calves okay. Ready when you are. Stop if I shout…”

Robert and Olly yell above the incessant cacophony of calling cattle “We’re opening the top yard gate now. You ready?”

“Yes” I scream over the noise – and the jostling rolling tide of  heaving motley-moulting red bodies surges forward leaving baby calves standing and stunned as their mothers disappear from sight.

It’s my job to keep the calves grouped and moving as best I can until they get the hang of running with the herd. All these calves have known is their secure cow palace world. One calf manages to slip through a gap by the cattle crush. I shriek “Hang on! Escapee, escapee. Hold the cattle!”

new man? Okaaay...

new man? Okaaay...

Olly and Robert do their best to steady and hold the stampede as I manoeuvre the calf back in with its herd. As I succeed the bull and a heifer break rank and steam off down the lane…we let them run holding back the cows; we know they won’t go too far (here’s praying) without the main herd. The herd strains and pushes forward eager to catch up with the disappearing pair though luckily Robert and Olly manage to control the pace.
We are prepared, the gate to Cow Moor is open and the rest of the lane blocked off, the bull and his consort swerve into the field, Robert and Olly step aside allowing the cattle to stream in after them. It’s done. The herd is safe and contained. We leave them in Cow Moor for the morning to let off steam, establish the pecking order and come to terms with the appearance of a new bull. After lunch, when they are hopefully calmer, we will walk them a mile or so down the road to the River Meadows.

this looks as if I'm cheering...I was actually trying to get rid of midges biting my ear!

this looks as if I'm cheering with relief...I was actually trying to get rid of midges biting my ear!

green shoots growing in the biome

green shoots growing in the biome

The biome begins to blossom!

the kitchen table (and linen cupboard) is providing the ambient growing temperature for seedlings!

the kitchen table (and linen cupboard) provides the ambient growing temperature for seedlings!

It began as a small seed of  an idea in our heads following yet another atrocious summer and a rotting defunct vegetable garden.We decided to take the plunge. Cleared an area of scrub, trees and detritus behind the fruit cage and booked in digger Dave to level the site.  Then wondered what we’d done as the rain continued and conditions became increasingly difficult.

Biting the bullet we ordered a polytunnel ‘kit’ and  began the massive construction operation. Backs were almost broken along with spirits. Eventually the monster was assembled. The next task? Working hundreds of tonnes of sodden clay topsoil chockablock with tree, bramble and weed roots into a friable workable tilth. Tonnes of chippings and sand were added along with lime to produce a neutral soil.  Robert hit his wall…but somehow found the strength to soldier on.

men at work. site clearance

men at work. site clearance

digger-driver-dave does his bit

digger dave does his bit

men at work

cold and frustrated

form this...

from this...

...to this

...to this

and eventually this!

and eventually this!

Here she is!

Willow's first day at Loks Park Farm

Willow's first day at Locks Park Farm

Robert has asked me to formally introduce you to Willow Lark Thylacine…‘Umm? What?’ I can here you thinking. Let me explain.

We were being indecisive between the choice of Willow and Lark (elegant, graceful, dainty. swift, fluid, alive). As the suitability of each was being tossed backward and forward between the family, Robert, in a world of his own, was staring at her quizzically. “I’ve got it.” He suddenly exclaimed “I know exactly. She reminds me of a Thylacine.” (You, of course, are totally familiar with the extinct Tasmanian Tiger? In fact, I’m sure it’s just what you were thinking too…) “Thylacine. That’s what we should call her, Thylacine!” He rushed off to get his mammal book for those who were looking more than a little perplexed.

taking it all in

taking it all in

In the meantime ‘puppy’ was getting a little fed up with what she thought was a quite obvious choice, and decided to make it abundantly clear to us the next time ‘her’ name was called. So with instant recognition,  a bound onto my lap and  a million little licks,  she was, she informed us …Willow!

Robert, a little put out that we hadn’t rapturously agreed on his choice, thought, in those obviously formal situations (?), she should be known by her full name of Willow Lark Thylacine…

a wee bit sleepy - but I shan't give in...

a wee bit sleepy - but I shan't give in...

She’s a delight. She’s bright, alert and quite enchanting. A definite people person she has won over the hearts of the whole family.  Not a collie though, not a collie at all. Instead of finding the draftiest, most inhospitable spot in which to fall asleep, she actively searches for downy comfy-warm softness (fleecy snug-basket in front of aga)! Bright as a new penny, she’s already sussed out the characters of Skye and Ness, who, surprisingly, are not as put out as I thought they might be. She asks to go out for a wee or poo and has good recall of the house and immediate surrounds, knowing how to get both out and in – a cat flap for her present size would be perfect.

I will keep you fully informed of her progress!

what has happened here?

what has happened here?

The dogs were brought up short on their walk yesterday. Where was Hannaborough Moor with all those enticing smells and tracks? Had Armageddon happened? An apocalypse?

No. Taking advantage of the still, dry sunny weather of the last two weeks the moor had been burnt – or swaled – on Sunday.

Swaling, controlled burning, has been carried out in Devon for thousands of years. It’s a traditional land management technique used particularly on Dartmoor and the Culm Measures to control overgrowth, removing dead and woody vegetation to encouraging new shoots. In the past this would have provided summer grazing but now, more often than not, it’s to provide good wildlife habitat.

skye reassesing the situation

skye reassessing the situation

The idea is to have a quick, not too hot, fire that removes the accumulation of leaf litter and young bushes, leaving the roots and any underlying peat untouched.  Done in the right way it encourages a good show of flowers like orchids and brings long-term benefits to the wildlife habitat.  Inevitably some animals will be killed, but the impact on invertebrate populations, like those of the rare marsh fritillary butterfly, should be short-lived provided the burn is not too deep.

these look as if they could be harvest mice nests - which would be very exciting. We shall check the area later in the year to see if we can find any.

these look as if they could be harvest mice nests - which would be very exciting. We shall check the area later in the year to see what we can find.

I could go on at some length at about the best ways to burn and about the impact on wildlife, but would risk boring you all.  Back to basics, I guess.  Fires are hot,  you have to take care – that should do it!

chiffchaff

chiffchaff

I was clearing up in the kitchen yesterday morning when Robert walked in. I turned to ask him something about weighing a load of young stock that were being collected around lunch time but stopped when I saw his face

“Wow, that’s a big grin! What’s that for?”

“Oh, nothing, nothing.” His grin was growing bigger by the minute “Nothing.”

“But something’s made you light up like a beacon…what’s it, hey? The wonderful, wonderful sun? Oh I know I know…it’s because I’m selling a load of animals today! That’s made you smile!”

Our land, as you’ve gathered, has been badly affected by the last two unprecedented wet years. The farm has all but stopped growing grass and we don’t expect much improvement this year even if the weather is better. Worried at how we will manage to produce enough grazing and forage I made a decision to sell twelve of my young stock. These were being bought by an organic farmer from South Devon who is already ankle deep in grass. My animals will thrive on it!

Robert went all smiley-secretive “No, actually. Though, of course, that does make me relieved and happy.”

“What then. Look at you. Like a cat that’s got the cream.”

He laughed “Weeell, I was just sitting on the bench outside when I heard a chiffchaff…and then, just to make sure it came and sat on the gate. Sat there, right in front of me. A confirmed sighting!”

“Really? Fantastic. That’s earlier than last year isn’t it?”

“A little, most years they arrive on, or very close to, 21 March.”  He went on to say that his records over the last 18 years showed no trend towards earlier arrival, as might be expected from all the talk about climate change.  In fact, although not denying that springs are getting earlier (some years), he believes that many of the trends for earlier and earlier sightings can be explained simply be people looking harder, and making better records. The result, I should think, of all those high profile Nature Watch/Birding programmes on telly!

It doesn’t matter though, whether it’s early or late, to me it’s a sure sign that Spring it really on it’s way. Hooray!

last year's chiffchaff nest with eggs (you can just see them)

last year's chiffchaff nest with eggs (you can just see them)

a thousand nippled creature?

a multi nippled creature

an all-seeing eye?

all-seeing eye?

f

ice barnicles

a sea

alien invasion

No, frog spawn. Visit the Tate Modern in your nearest ditch or pond.

Locks Park Farm

Thanks for visiting my blog. All entries are presented in chronological order.

I have a small organic farm on the Culm grasslands near Hatherleigh in Devon, with sheep and beef cattle. I've been farming in the county for more than 30 years. I've set up this blog to share views on farming and the countryside - please do give your thoughts.

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The Campaign to Protect Rural England has helped set up this blog. We want farming to thrive in England, and believe that it is essential that people understand farming and farmers better in order for that to happen. Paula's views expressed here are her own and we won't necessarily share all of them, but we're happy to have helped give her a voice.

Find our more about CPRE and our views on food and farming at our website, www.cpre.org.uk