Wetted meadows - North Plain Farm
… is the best way to describe what’s going on here on the farm at North Plain. Several large meadows, all in line along the Lonning, traditionally had been used for cattle grazing and hay meadows - common to all the farms on the Cardurnock Peninsula surrounding the South Solway Mosses. For centuries there has been a process of development and drainage - difficult to farm and a hard way to make a living.
The RSPB has taken over the best part of 1000 acres and, in many senses, reversing that which has gone before i.e. closing the drainage off and re-wetting the land to create a suitable open habitat for the geese, duck and wader population of the South Solway Plain … and yet very much retaining the practice of cattle grazing and haymaking - a complex task where timing and management hang on a thread, with the weather here in the northwest being very unpredictable. Get it wrong and you are in serious trouble. Managing such an area for birds, then cattle and finally hay is a completely new way of farming, which the Staff and work party have been dealing with for this past nearly two decades, with the slender resources available to them.
I can remember a time, not so long ago in the 1940‘s, when a hundred acres would have required at least 4 - 6 men to work it with a tractor and horses. The Campfield Reserve is nearly 1000 acres and the Staff being up to 3 plus a work party once a week ( calculated as being equivalent to 1 extra person) - being a simple soul myself, I leave you to do the maths.
Back to the latest part of the project - the middle meadow … work here has now been going on since last November when the cattle were taken off for the Winter. The thinning and laying of the old hedge - Cumberland style, which essentially cuts the structure down very low and to my native Yorkshire eyes (used to a much higher looser style), seems rather strange. But Stephen, the Reserve’s estate worker, to my mind, is an artist in the Cumberland style when one considers that the ditch running alongside had to be re-excavated and profiled, with the Workparty coming in every Thursday to assist in cutting and burning the brash. The sight of three or four substantial bonfires, all going at once on a January day with the wind and hail hurling across horizontally, is a task only for the brave and most committed.
The other part of the project is the making of new scrapes in sympathy with the configuration of the meadow; the removal of huge quantities of soil - marvellous black peaty stuff that gardener’s would give their eye-teeth for - into banks around the edge, with the purpose of retaining water … and there is also talk of new walkways and access points - a thrilling prospect. But the push is on, as waders will already be considering territories and pairing, let alone nesting activities - followed closely by the introduction of cattle for grazing in early Summer. Didn’t I say ”everything hangs on a thread” - beats me how the Staff sleep at night worrying about it all! Perhaps they sleep the sleep of exhaustion!
Judith has been attempting to record this process photographically for the last few months, for your delectation. I feel sure these illustrations will convey the scenario more effectively than my poor words!
As we commenced by saying that this is a work in progress - we shall keep you well up to date and , hopefully glued to your computer monitors, in intense anticipation of the various outcomes.
But could I leave you with the thought that ’man proposes but nature disposes!’
5th January, 2012
Stephen, the Reserve's estate worker, hedge-laying along the ditch across the middle meadows.
Stephen dealing with undergrowth on the ditchside.
Some of the early work already carried out.
This is the effect of recent excavation work on water retention in these meadows.
Floodwater, due to excavation work, is extending right across the meadows as far as the ditch, which is being currently worked on.
11th January, 2012
Stephen carrying on with hedge-laying, come rain or shine. He has already profiled the contour of the ditch.
Thursday 12th January, 2012 - Campfield Workparty Day.
The process of hedge-laying produces large amounts of brash which the Workparty are gathering up and burning.
It's all go.
This fire is burning well.
It's a smokey business but the heat produced will not go amiss on this bitterly cold day.
This is a good example of the Cumberland-style process. The brash is cut away from the trees on the right to give short uprights - like those on the left. These are then slashed halfway through near the ground and interwoven through adjacent ones. This does not kill the hedge and it will sprout new growth in the Spring, forming the basis of a much stronger and tightly knit structure, in the future.
Dave, using the chainsaw to take out old wood.
A number of old nests like this one, were found along the length of the hedge. They were probably Blackbirds's nests.
Time to pack up for this week.
Looking across this new open landscape - which breeding waders so favour.
The results so far: a well profiled ditch and neatly laid hedge.
13th January, 2012
Stephen carries on during the week with this process.
23rd January, 2012
Ten days later and the hedge is nearly finished.
31st January, 2012
Stephen putting in the finishing touches and banking up the low points.
3rd February, 2012
Moving earth piles away from excavated hollows, now that the ground was frozen and firm enough to do so.
'One man and his Digger' - with old tractor still in commission.