Looking out of my window out across the Cross Country course I am struck by the beauty of it, the colours, the greens, the golds, the russets merge to create a subtle, textured tapestry and a light breeze is moving across it just moving the taller grasses creating a wonderful animated display. Its not just the look, in getting down to the grass roots so to speak, the species mix is amazing with pink and white clovers, some dandelion, buttercup field campion and a whole host of sedges, fescues and grasses. Through zero use of weed killers and any artificial inputs the species of flora have multiplied exponentially over the last fifteen years through our stewardship, but it is also due in no small part to the families who farmed this ground before us and cared for it over the centuries. I love this time of year, the cross country course is busy, the events are coming thick and fast demanding herculean efforts from the whole team but walking on the course with the dogs in the evening I almost have to pinch myself at the perfection of it all.
The beauty doesn’t disguise or hide the practicality of the hay making process. The hay crop is vitally important to us here with our experience of last years shortages and price hikes. The affects on the business were horrendous with prices for forage going through the roof and availability becoming a major problem. We need to make sure that we take a full advantage from the crop available to us but there is another consideration, our co-occupiers of the site here at Eland. Nationally ground nesting birds have come under severe pressure in the last few decades with the loss of habitat and in particularly time, with the movement away from hay meadows to fields of grass being mowed for silage three times a year much earlier than has historically been the case many of our native species have been robbed of habitat and numbers have consequently plummeted. That is the reality of today’s farming and being realistic that is the way it must be if we want our food produced here in the UK with all of the advantages that brings in terms of animal welfare, food miles and traceability but that doesn’t mean that that regime is appropriate or relevant in all cases. We have taken the decision not to cut early but to allow our hay to grow to full term and allow the birds to raise a couple of broods before it is cut. This obviously removes the option to cut in June, when the opportunity arises and to push back to mid to late July increasing risk and when the weather is against us and potentially reducing yield but I think the decision is the right one and the potential cost is one I am prepared to pay. As a result we enjoy the company of some absolutely splendid birds including the local Curlew, occasional Lapwings, unusually Oystercatchers, skylarks and an amazing array of invertebrates and small mammals, the rabbits are a bit of a pain but I guess it’s the rough with the smooth.
As a child I vividly remember playing in the wild places that were available to us on Tyneside during summer with the near constant song of the skylarks providing that enchanting sound backdrop and as a young man walking in the high places in North Yorkshire the sound of Curlew and Lapwing making the place and the experience complete. We here, like many of our farming colleagues want to ensure that those experiences are available to the generations that follow and as we here at Eland have the ability to operate in that way without doing significant damage to our business, then that is a path I am determined to follow and that is why our hay is still standing!