Updated: Feb 25
Yesterday Patrick Barker and I stood in a very wet, windswept meadow. The meadow itself is fascinating. Formerly a grazing meadow from when the Barker's Lodge Farm in Westhorpe was home to a dairy herd. Agricultural changes saw the cows sold off. The meadow became arable, cereals waved heads where cows once chewed the cud. Another management decision and the field became a grassland once more, but this time a wildflower enhanced meadow. Hay cut from the village green was round baled. These green bales were unrolled on the meadow, releasing their bounty of seeds into the sward. Seven years later and the meadow now plays home to a multitude of native wild flower. The meadow is cut in rotation. In summer it is alive with insects. The hedges that surround the meadow play host to grey partridges in their lee. Yellow hammers, bull finches and linnets- and a profusion of other farmland birds- flit and flock in the mixed thorn and spindle, field maple and wayfarer. The reason for Patrick and I standing in this soggy meadow was one of these hedges.
This season I have laid 250 meters of hedge at Lodge farm. We have also coppiced stretches using different methods of cutting and protecting regrowth. In a spirit of citizen science these experiments will hopefully expand our knowledge and practice in managing farmland hedgerows that will both increase habitat and bio-diversity whilst still remaining cost effective and practical for modern arable farmers. The last piece of hedgerow requiring management at Lodge Farm for this season is one 40 meter length that runs on the eastern side of the wildflower meadow.
We decided to lay this hedge - planted some 12 years ago - it is gappy at the bottom meaning that one quarter of its habitat value is lost. Rather than work away in isolation, I gave a hedge laying demonstration whilst Patrick gave a talk on the Barker's overall conservation efforts in the farmed landscape. On such a miserable day this small demo still attracted just under 30 people. Farmers, gamekeepers, birders, bird ringers, neighbours and the merely curious joined us. It was a delight to pass on my love for hedges and the creatures who call them home. Better still was to see the sheer diversity of people who share my interest and wanted to learn more about the work of conservation minded farmers such as the Barkers.
Next season therefore I am determined to continue passing on my small piece of skill to others. Ed Nesling, another conservation minded farmer has given me the opportunity to do just this. He is embarking upon a conservation project on a 191 hectare block of farmland near Debenham which I will be a part of. He too, like the Barkers, wishes to share knowledge and his passion for the wildlife in our Suffolk farmland. Hedgerow management is one small part of the work that will go on at the "Flea Barn" project. The project will be the epitome of citizen science. I will be trying to recruit birders, entomologists, botanists, and naturalists to help in researching the base line flora and fauna of the land prior to us starting work. Watch this space for more news, however if you are interested upon getting involved in this project I would be delighted to hear from you. My contact details are on the website.