Skip to content

Posts from the ‘Birds’ Category

Detonated Summer – Conservation Grazing

Held back, waiting, cool days feeling more like autumn.

Then summer just detonated and caught up with itself, compressing into one week, hampered vegetation finally released from bondage. Mildly shaggy hedgerows and fields have turned to full blown fireworks.

And the jet stream has finally gone north and we sigh in collective relief.

A warm breeze, sun on the face. Heat.

Wildflower Bank www.thinkingcowgirl.wordpress.com

The sunny bank on the roadside. It used to be dominated with nettle, bramble and an escaped mint. Lots more species now.

*

I thought this might be a good time to explain a little more about what we’re doing here on the farm. At this time of year we are busy with habitat management. This basically means pulling out species which have a propensity to become dominant, so that a wider variety of wild plants can get a foothold.

oxeye daisies www.thinkingcowgirl.wordpress.com

To help things along we haven’t fertilised the land for over ten years, as wild flowers are not too keen on this. Too much fertility allows the more thuggish species to ascend, shading out their more delicate cousins with their lush foliage and rapidly advancing root mats.

wild flowers www.thinkingcowgirl.wordpress.com

*

It all needs to be cut at the right time too, after flowering and seeding, and before it becomes rank and wet in autumn.

wild flowers www.thinkingcowgirl.wordpress.com

*

The cows are all part of this management regime, they are ‘conservation’ grazers.

*

Traditional English Herefords www.thinkingcowgirl.wordpress.com
*

What is Conservation Grazing? I hear you ask.

Conservation grazing is one that benefits wildlife, landscape and cultural heritage. It is designed to meet nature conservation objectives – which in our case is to optimize sward structure for invertebrates, small mammals and birds.

rabbit in meadow www.thinkingcowgirl.wordpress.com

Actually rabbits are not the small mammals to which I was referring but I like the picture so it’s in.
Rabbits cause damage to landscape features such as hedgebanks.
And did you know they have something in their urine which prevents grass from growing. Clever.

Elderflower www.thinkingcowgirl.wordpress.com

Elderflower champagne

Why graze?

In the UK nearly all the areas which we value for conservation interest form part of cultural landscapes created by humans, often as a side product of subsistence agriculture. Grazing livestock and associated activities played a key role in the formation and maintenance of many semi-natural habitats including grassland, heathland and pasture-woodland, through slowing the successional trajectory of these habitats towards increased woodland cover.

sparrow fledgling www.thinkingcowgirl.wordpress.com

A very noisy sparrow fledgling almost ready to fly

In addition to maintaining or restoring such habitats, grazing is also an essential component of many habitat (re)creation projects, for example managed reversion from arable fields to species-rich grassland or the recreation of heathland.

wild meadow www.thinkingcowgirl.wordpress.com

Grass in the Triangle Field – quite a few species don’t you think? Not brilliant, but going in the right direction.

Livestock affect vegetation communities through removal of biomass. This allows less competitive species to become established as dominant plant species are reduced. Trampling also creates areas of bare ground, which may be suitable for plant regeneration from seed or seedbanks, and are beneficial for invertebrates and herptiles.

wild meadow www.thinkingcowgirl.wordpress.com

Together with grazing and browsing, physical damage to vegetation from lying, rolling and pushing can also increase structural diversity. High grazing pressure may limit scrub expansion and in some cases reduce scrub cover. Many invertebrate species are also dependent on the dung that livestock produce (over 250 species of insects are found in or on cattle dung in the UK), while dunging patterns can result in the redistribution of nutrients.

A cows tail is very useful in the heat. Swish swish.

A cows tail is very useful in the heat. Swish swish.

There are many examples of species that benefit from grazing. Many individual plant species benefit, while habitats such as flower-rich meadows are dependent on grazing. Ground-nesting wading birds such as lapwing or snipe need grazing to create the varied sward structure needed to fledge their young successfully. A number of species of bats including both species of horseshoe bat depend on a mixture of invertebrate-rich habitats in which to forage, including grazed pasture and meadows.

wild flowers www.thinkingcowgirl.wordpress.com

See that window? That’s where the bats come and eat the moths which gather near the light. Sometimes better than TV. Poor moths. But happy bats. And good moth habitat…

What can conservation grazing achieve?

Many conservation organisations now have their own livestock or work closely with local farmers to ensure that grazing continues on wildlife sites that need it. At the same time, farmers are encouraged through Environmental Stewardship to use grazing regimes that will benefit wildlife. A growing number of farmers and other land managers (that would be us) are making a conscious decision to tailor grazing management on their lands to meet nature conservation objectives.

wild flowers www.thinkingcowgirl.wordpress.com

In addition to a wildlife-rich countryside, conservation grazing can deliver substantial benefits to local communities. Local production of good quality meat and dairy produce with high welfare standards is a key outcome of many conservation grazing schemes. Such schemes can play a role in rejuvenating rural economies while using traditional rural skills such as stock husbandry which are in decline. Visitors to grazed sites with public access often enjoy watching free-ranging animals, and in some cases enjoy becoming involved as voluntary stock checkers, helping to keep an eye on livestock.

Traditional English Hereford www.thinkingcowgirl.wordpress.com

When it’s really hot there’s only one place to be. Next time you see a field of cows with no shade or shelter think of this.

So conservation grazing is not about looking back to a ‘golden age’ where rural practices optimized biodiversity, but looking forward to ways in which sustainable management of the countryside will benefit both the wildlife and the communities who live there.

Old Iron Implements www.thinkingcowgirl.wordpress.com

Another kind of conservation…

*

The above text is an edited version from The Grazing Animals Project

*

So, that is mainly what we are doing with the cows (apart from loving them of course). As Francis Pryor says in his book The Making of the British Landscape it really doesn’t take that long to improve biodiversity and habitat with the right management. He’s also a WordPress blogger.

When they have their calves in approximately a year’s time we will have to make a decision about what to do next. Apart from trying to conserve this rare breed (that’s the cultural heritage) there’s the question of the male calves. Taking Herald to the abbatoir was a bit of an eye opener. As a meat eater I hadn’t really thought too hard about the grisly business of slaughter and it has had quite an impact on me. It was also the sheer number of animals going through which was pretty horrific – all to satisfy our desire to eat meat whenever we choose.

Livestock breeds poster in barn www.thinkingcowgirl.wordpress.com

I started reading around the subject in an attempt to process all the confusing emotions which it stirred and in the end decided that there is an argument for eating some meat – just not all the time and much better to be savoured as something special. Ex vegetarian and environmental campaigner Simon Fairlie argues in his book Meat, A Benign Extravagance that it is far better environmentally to eat a small amount of locally sourced meat than to constantly eat flown in vegetarian staples or luxuries such as baby corns and mange tout which are often produced by poor countries where the people are hungry.

Livestock do a very useful job in taking care of huge amounts of vegetation which we are unable to process and meat is highly nutritious and scores very highly on a weight to weight comparison with other foods. However, he is keen to point out, this is not a green light to eat as much meat as one desires, just that it should be occasionally, local and be reared to high welfare standards. It’s not always easy to find and identify this kind of meat so a lot needs to change on this front but where there’s a will there’s a way.

Light on wall www.thinkingcowgirl.wordpress.com

This amazing light pattern was caused by a pan lid.

There is a really good review of it here if you’re intrigued. A very interesting book to read though slightly heavy on the figures but these are needed to prove the environmental impact studies.

Anyway, it has meant a change in eating habits around here. We were never huge consumers of meat but now most meals are vegetarian. And although we always bought local meat, vigilance has been stepped up.

There is loitering on the stairs in hot weather

There is loitering on the stairs in hot weather

*

Simon Fairlie also imports Austrian scythes which have been made at the same place since the 1500’s. I had a go on one the other day and it was really light and user friendly. Visit the Scythe Shop to find out more about them. They are expensive but you couldn’t find a better bit of kit. I managed to scythe a few square metres in a matter of a minute. Better still, go to the Scythe Festival in Somerset which is held every year in June.

*

fairliescythe

*

It’s not all work work work though… !

*

Swimming at Bossiney Haven at high tide

Swimming at Bossiney Haven at high tide

Advertisements

I Declare an International Day of Inefficiency

Swallow 2

pic CHOG

Today we call M and tell him the first Swallow has arrived. It’s a moment of joy, admiration and awe for its arduous cross continental journey. Now it is perched on the telephone wire which stretches across part of the front yard, preening each wing in turn. Not long before, it was whooping and swooping above the pond and flying low, in and out of the shippen. Its song is peppered with dolphin like clicks. I am sitting on the top step, the slate warm, feeling the sun on my face, my body slowly unwinding, finally released from being huddled, bundled and wrapped. There is a delightful din of a world waking up. Ten years ago there were almost thirty Swallows lined up on the wire by the end of the summer; each subsequent year there have been less and less.

I abandon the ‘to do’ list. I think, today will be a day of inefficiency

I experience anxiety as I hope and wonder about a mate for the Swallow arriving. And if they breed successfully will there be enough insects for them to feed their young?

The massive decline in bee populations catches the public imagination, but all insects are being put under similar pressure by loss of habitat and pesticides. In a farmland setting, loss of habitat means less wild flowers, the planting of monocultures of rye grass or other crops without provision for invertebrates. And why does this matter? Well, in a nutshell…

Biodiversity means the variety of life, in all its forms. It includes the variety of species and ecosystems (communities and interrelations of species) in the world, and also genetic variation. Human beings are dependent for their sustenance, health and well-being on fundamental biological systems and processes. This includes all of our food, many medicines and industrial products, as well as the air we breathe. Without insects and other invertebrates, human life on this planet would be impossible. The enormous diversity of life is of crucial value, providing resilience to organisms and ecosystems.

Why thank you for that, the Amateur Entomologists’ Society!

I go over to the cow field. I can hear sheep and lambs from across the valley, plaintively calling to one another. Standing there, the sky a bowl of blue, I count fourteen Buzzards above, wheeling on the thermals and crying their eerie cries. I don’t know, but I would hazard a guess that they are simply, like me, having a good time. Rabbits run in and out of the gorse bushes down the centre of the field, flashes of white and brown amongst the acid yellow and though their numbers are too plentiful (breeding like…! and no serious predators, apart from a ginger cat) who could begrudge their hoppity heaven today?

The cows are looking pretty, their ruddy coats shining in the sun. After a while they approach and both Lucy and Mary-Rose ask to be scratched. They stand happily either side of me, while Belita tentatively sniffs my face with her gentle pink nose. To think they were so terrified when they arrived and now this. Happy.

Traditional Hereford Heifers www.thinkingcowgirl.wordpress.com

Coming back I meet Mr. Pheasant who has made regular visits this winter. A little Wren dips in and out of a thicket, and a Wagtail, the first I’ve seen this year, sits atop the shippen roof surveying the scene.

Male Pheasant www.thinkingcowgirl.wordpress.com

Violets, Stitchwort and Celandine are beginning to peep out from the hedgebanks. Dandelions are waiting for the bees. Where are the bees?

Dandelion www.thinkingcowgirl.wordpress.com

I’m waiting for you bees…

I nibble on a disc of Navelwort.

Navelwort www.thinkingcowgirl.wordpress.com

I could be salad material

A bout of spontaneous seed sowing comes on…

Orlaya grandiflora

Nicotiana sylvestris

Nicotiana Lime Green

Seed sowing www.thinkingcowgirl.wordpress.com

Ammi majus

Cosmos sulphureus Cosmic Orange

Rudbeckia hirta Prairie Sun

Seed Sowing www.thinkingcowgirl.wordpress.com

Then I admire B’s artwork…

Barbed Wire Ball Artwork www.thinkingcowgirl.wordpress.com

Later, I lie on the grass under the big sycamore. The still bare branches reach toward a pale moon, bursting with shimmering buds. I can feel the earth is still damp and cold but the warmed grass is an eiderdown beneath me. I am lost. My eyes close.

Sycamore Buds www.thinkingcowgirl.wordpress.com

Sycamore Buds & Moon www.thinkingcowgirl.wordpress.comLooking Up through a Sycamore www.thinkingcowgirl.wordpress.com

What about an International Day of Inefficiency? Come on, we can do it!

Moor Starlings

March 2013 is really really cold; the coldest March since 1962. By this time in 2012 the migratory starlings were already on their way back to their summer places, northern Europe and Russia. But now they are staying put for the time being, hanging out with their English cousins until the wind changes and eases their passage on the long journey north, a warm south westerly ruffling their rainbow sheen feathers.

Last week we made the journey to see them fly in to the massive night time roost on Bodmin Moor. At sundown the birds just keep coming and coming, a million plus. This time we saw birds of prey, possibly a hen harrier and a merlin, going in for their supper.

MarchD2013 257compressed MarchD2013 256 MarchD2013 251compressed MarchD2013 245compressed MarchD2013 243compressed MarchD2013 240compressed MarchD2013 237compressed MarchD2013 265compressed

The murmuration of starlings did a bit of their aerial dancing at the beginning which was amazing but I was absorbed enough to miss capturing it on camera.  As it turned out they didn’t do any more.

I’ve posted this link before, it is such a lovely short film of the starlings doing their thing – breathtaking and sweet. Enjoy!

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=iRNqhi2ka9k

And this is the direction most of the starlings come from.

MarchD2013 253compressed

Also, if you’re into birds and the need for good habitat in general,  this is an amazing blog post from Wolf Tree Farm, a farm not far from here, in which she describes their valley over decades.

%d bloggers like this: