Country Diary- Trees, Cartridges and Angry Birds
At the last election the political parties tried to out do one another with the number of trees they claimed would be planted should they gain power. Labour arrived at a figure of so many billions that it looked likely Suffolk would have had to become a forest to accommodate them all. The Conservatives however won by a landslide and thus some of us are going to have to help fulfil their promise of planting 30 million trees each year! Personally I will be doing 0.01% of that! This winter Ed Nesling and I will be planting 3,500 trees on his farm “Flea Barn” near Winston as part of an exciting scheme to improve the biodiversity. In addition to the tree planting, over 70 acres will cease being arable land and become wildflower margins, lapwing plots, cover crops and wild bird seed mixes. 1.5 km of hedges will be laid, new hedgerows will be planted. It is a bold move by Ed, he understands his role as being not only a food producer but also a custodian of the land. This new habitat will benefit a wide range of wildlife on the farm and adds to the already existing old meadowland and wide floral rich margins. Flea Barn truly is a special place, but is not the only farm that is run in such a way. Suffolk should be very proud of our conservationist farmers.
Whilst the political posturing of who wanted to plant the most trees went on, some of us had our hands in the air asking a question. When one plants trees or hedges, one has to guard the saplings from browsing by hares and deer. For years we have done this with a plastic spiral or tree guard. Therefore with 30 million new trees getting planted, it seemed that the government forgot that this also means 30 million pieces of single use plastic being introduced to the countryside too! This is why I am currently on the hunt for a supplier of environmentally friendly tree and hedge guards. There are some suppliers out there but the costs are higher than plastic and it is hard to make the finances stack up for planting on this scale! This is a constant problem in the countryside. Politicians and lobbyists of all creeds come up with some eye catching, ostensibly Green ideas, they launch these lofty aspirations at a swanky press function in a Westminster function room and think their job is done, with self congratulation all round. In the aftermath, those of us who actually work the land have to turn the soundbites into reality, usually at our cost!
On the same theme, the organisations that run shooting came together in February and declared that the use of lead shot and single use plastics in shotgun cartridges should be phased out, and be ultimately banned in five years. The companies who make cartridges in Britain poured cold water on the idea, saying that such technology was not yet available to make an eco friendly cartridge. As is so often the case Suffolk had the answer! A friend of mine called Nick Levett- Scrivener owns a company called Shooting Star based in the wilds of East Suffolk. He has been working with two cartridge manufacturers in France and Spain (Jocker and BioAmmo) for a number of years whilst they developed cartridges that are made from either recycled cardboard or a compostable plant polymer and use non toxic steel shot. They are now in the UK, I have shot some and they are brilliant! Nick is the sole importer of these innovative cartridges and Suffolk looks set to once again be leading the field in Green tech, this time helping the sports of Clay and Game shooting!
Finally, I had a run in with a cock grey partridge the other day. I have five pairs of the diminutive game birds in separate pens dotted around Flea Barn. The hens are sitting on eggs and we hope to release them as family groups if and when they succeed in rearing a brood. The grey partridge is my favourite bird. Sadly all too rare, largely because every predator longs to eat them and their habitat requirements are quite particular. The cock bird knows his family are on the menu, thus they will bravely sacrifice themselves so that their hen and young might escape the talons or teeth of their foe. I knew grey cocks were brave, but when I went to change the water in one of the 10m x 10m pens the other day I was attacked by a ferociously indignant Partridge father. He went like a bantam at my face, then leaped onto my back scratching and pecking my neck in a do or die mission. I started to laugh at his paternal anger and then felt slightly humbled. I don’t know if we have a “county bird”, if not we should adopt the Grey Partridge, they are a perfect example of understated and rare beauty, who if roused has a formidable spirit! A perfect metaphor for Suffolk!