Weather. We all love to talk about it, none more so than farmers.
Here in the Cambridgeshire Fens we are in the paradoxical position of having just had the second wettest April since records began but being one of the counties still worst hit by drought. As you can imagine that’s giving us plenty of conversational fodder – not enough rain, too much of it, flooded fields, empty reservoirs...
Of course, the weather influences more important decisions for a farmer than whether or he or she needs a brolly. When you’re trying to get something to grow, weather is everything.
A good example of this is the struggle that so many people had to grow wild bird seed mix in the dry spring of 2011. The best rewards came to those who ignored the instructions on the packet and waited till as late as June, so the seeds went into the ground just as the rain finally came.
Learning to grow wildlife habitat is a learning curve just like with any other crop. Luckily, there are an increasing number of farmers who know their onions when it comes to Stewardship options, and for most farmers talking about crops comes in a close second to talking about the weather.
Talking through their options - the Prickwillow boys admire a second year wild bird seed mix
Last week it was a great help for me to be able to take Fenland farmers Paul and Fred – keen to do their bit for wildlife but afraid of what they might encounter trying to get options to work – to meet old hand Ed, who has the same soil type and cropping and has years of Stewardship experience under his belt.
Over the years Ed has not only perfected the technical details of growing things like wild bird seed mixes but has also come to appreciate the across-the-board positive effects his Stewardship scheme has had, not only on his farm wildlife but also on his own enjoyment of farming.
With a satisfied nod he says “It gives me something to look at when I’m driving up and down”. Believe me when I say that, from a farmer, that's a gushing endorsement indeed!
These positive effects are not just anecdotal – they are supported by ever growing tomes of research and the continued stunning results on our own Hope Farm, where bird numbers are still increasing year on year.
Ed’s enthusiasm proves infectious – arriving back at Paul’s offices to finalise the application, he points to the map and magics an extra area of potential nectar flower mix from nowhere.
“That one’s for the turtle doves” he says. “I want to see lots more in five years.”