Sorry, hardly an original pun I know!
I was lucky enough to be a part of the March of the Beekeepers event in London today.
We got a great turnout - beekeepers, gardeners and others, many in fantastically creative costumes. I'm not going to try to guess numbers but we certainly made a big impact and hopefully generated a lot of publicity for the crucial neonics vote on Monday. The main rally took place in Parliament Square, and while we waved banners and sang stirring songs (Give Bees a Chance) a small delegation delivered a letter and petition to Downing Street. Owen Paterson can't fail to realise that this is an issue which the public cares strongly about - fingers crossed he will make the right decision on Monday.
Here are some photos for you to enjoy. I’ll let you know after Monday how the vote goes.
Last month EU agriculture ministers failed our pollinators – and therefore failed food producers and food eaters. That’s a pretty comprehensive failure.
They failed us because they blocked the commission’s proposal to restrict the use of neonicotinoids for a two-year moratorium. Since then, the Environmental Audit Committee published their report on ‘Pollinators and Pesticides’, which concluded that that not enough is being done to mitigate the risks (you can read more detail and our thoughts here).
Hopefully this report will have helped shift opinion ready for the second vote next Monday, 29 April, when we want Owen Paterson to lead the way, and support the restrictions proposed.
But lets not leave it at that.
This Friday, 26 April, we are encouraging people to join the March of the Beekeepers, to show Mr Paterson how he should vote. The march is supported by Avaaz, Buglife, Environmental Justice Foundation, Friends of the Earth, Greenpeace, Pesticide Action Network UK, RSPB, Soil Association and 38 Degrees. And, we hope, you!
Get your beekeeper kit on, put your hair in a beehive, wear stripes, carry fruit or flowers, sport a jar of jam or honey, don a Winnie to Pooh costume, or just come as you are. Meet at 10.30am for an 11.00am start in Parliament Square, Westminster, London on Friday 26th April 2013.
Even if you can't make the march, you can still show your support - sign the 38 Degrees petition here.
The weather dictates everything in farming whether you are an arable or livestock farmer. For us as an arable farm cultivations, spraying operations and harvesting are all at the mercy of the weather. Crop growth is also very much affected by the weather.
© Andy Hay, RSPB Images
When wheat harvest took place last year we very much hoped that we’d seen the last of the bad weather. After a 2 year drought, the spring and summer had turned out to be one of the wettest and dullest on record. The wheat and field bean crops certainly suffered and it is hard to believe that breeding birds, especially ground nesting birds such as grey partridges and skylarks didn’t suffer as well.
Optimism returned as cultivations began for crops to be harvested this year. Plan A was to have 66ha of 1st wheat and 17ha of 2nd wheat (variety Scout); 51ha of oilseed rape (variety Cabernet) and 29ha of field beans (variety Wizard). With a delayed wheat harvest in 2012, oilseed rape establishment (29th August) was delayed longer than we ideally wished. The field of 1st wheat and our 2nd wheat fields were also drilled later that we planned (14th October) and the quality of seedbed was not up to our normal standard.
This was an indication that while the harvest in 2012 had been difficult, the subsequent cultivations and establishments proved even more difficult. In September very dry conditions compromised our blackgrass control, followed by persistent rain which soon prevented any travelling on our heavy clay soils. Cultivations and drilling became impossible. The reality of being contract farmed meant that some of the few windows of opportunity that appeared were missed as the contractors were busy elsewhere.
Plan A soon gave way to Plan B, C, D and before we knew it Plan Z had been formulated and passed. A decision was made to leave the two wheat fields which were following field beans to the spring, and to sow spring wheat (varieties Mulika and Red Wheat). This would allow us to tackle a rather severe blackgrass problem which had developed in those fields. It also meant we would be growing spring cereals on the farm for the first time in many years. This in itself is a gamble on heavy clay, but flexible decision making was becoming key to ensuring good crops would be grown.
This flexibility was particularly valuable in the fields we were planning to sow with field beans. This crop is always the last to be sown, but as November passed into December hopes were receding rapidly. Eventually we had to face reality and in late December we made a decision to abandon growing beans and move to spring sowing of peas (variety Daytona) instead. As I write this the peas are still not sown, but this should happen in the next few days as the fields are ready to drill and soil temperatures are rising.
I would like to say that is where the difficulties ended, but we’ve recently had to abandon sowing the Red Wheat, as that field just refused to dry out despite drier weather and clearance of ditches and outflows from field drains. This is a blow and has obvious financial consequences, but we will use this period of non-cropping to sort out the problems with drainage in this field and to clean the field up.
This may sound as if it has only been Hope Farm that has suffered these problems. Unfortunately this hasn’t been the case. Over the winter and spring as I have attended many training events, seminars and presentations the first question on most peoples lips was ‘Are you all drilled up?’. The question was often asked knowing that neither of us where, and even when drilling had been achieved it wasn’t great. Many arable farmers across the UK have suffered similar problems, not to mention livestock farmers especially in the uplands. I think it is fair to say 2012 and 2013 will not be remembered fondly by the farming community.
Now that we are in late April, the weather has finally relented, the sun and heat have returned and the crops are growing. Fortunately our oilseed rape and winter wheat don’t look too bad, and the spring wheat is also growing well. The crops aren’t as good as we would normally expect, but neither are they disastrous.
© Ian Dillon
One final consequence of this very difficult autumn and winter was the failure to establish our wild bird cover crops and flower-rich margins in the autumn. That is the preferred time to establish these on our farm to ensure the best possible quality of habitat is created for butterflies, bees and birds. These will now be sown in the next week or so. This is a risk as drying soils may impede germination and crop development, but the reality of farming even on a wildlife friendly farm is that the crops come first and habitat creation and maintenance second even though it is very important.
I hope that when I write about the harvest in this blog that it will have been a good one and that it will also have been a good breeding season for the wildlife on the farm. The first butterflies (brimstones, commas and red admirals) have been seen and the starlings are beginning to lay their eggs. Spring is here, summer is round the corner and let us all hope that it will be a good one.
Yesterday I recommended reading Martin's blog for our views on predation. Check it out again today for more news about predation and the fortunes of some of our wonderful - but waning - waders, and the impact of agrienvironment schemes.
Redshank: Andy Hay (rspb-images.com)
The issue of predation is one that inflames strong passions and hot debate. Check out Martin Harper's blog today for our latest thoughts - and share yours too.
Buzzard: Andy Hay (rspb-images.com)