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Farm Diary August 2020 6 Sep 2020 (Farming with Nature) Ten years on, Robert Crocker reviews his plan for a mosaic of arable and pasture, encouraging and enhancing flora and fauna

Early August sees temperatures well into the 30s. Perfect weather to cut and bale the wildflower meadows and, despite the shortage of straw this year, my neighbour kindly sets aside 80 acres of wheat straw for our cattle’s winter bedding.

31 August records one of the lowest temperatures for an August bank holiday. The air is cool, autumnal and the early morning is wonderfully quiet – no traffic noise at all.

This is my first opportunity to assess the damage the recent strong winds have left behind. Huge limbs have been torn from mature oaks, heavy with the weight of wet leaves and acorns. The withering leaves release a pungent aroma that fills the air. Several large willows have been ripped apart and lay strewn, as if hit by an explosion… It will keep us busy this winter (clearing up) but the log shed will be full!

The spring oats were not quite fit (ripe) when the weather broke and have now lost their golden colour to a rain stained grey. I fear their milling potential will have also been lost; but they are still standing and will be harvested at the first opportunity of dry weather.

I am drawn to the sound of multiple bird song; flocks of linnet descend from the hedges to feed in the standing crop.

One of life’s simple pleasures is the picking and eating of field mushrooms. The heavy rain has triggered the emergence of a multitude of different fungi. It is particularly pleasing to pick my first field mushrooms from the middle of our large field named ‘Lancashire’ (if anyone with local knowledge knows the origin of the name, I would be most interested). Upon taking on the tenancy, I reinstated the fields to their pre-intensive arable status of pasture. Each year has seen the pastures improve and with the help of the cows (some 12 years on) conditions are favourable for mushrooms.

Walking downhill in the direction of Eynsham, I climb over the wooden gate that takes me from my own land to City Farm. Ten years ago, I began the management of this unique 250-acre farm.

Entered into a Higher-Level Stewardship scheme, the main objective has been to lightly manage a mosaic of arable and pasture, encouraging and enhancing flora and fauna…it has been a great success. City Farm has never been farmed intensively, resulting in a time capsule of a bygone rural era. Ten years have passed quickly; I feel fortunate to have been custodian of what I call ‘West Oxfordshire’s last piece of rainforest’. As the yellow planning notices display the inexorable progression towards the Garden Village development (which will adversely affect City Farm), I reflect on the countless hours spent at public meetings in an attempt to highlight the ecological value of this entire area.

It will be interesting to see if both promoter and District Council stick to their stated objectives of a net ecological gain for the Garden Village…time will tell.

Meanwhile, September and Autumn beckon.

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