This year there has been a bumper crop of everything. The birds have been scoffing out on the abundant Elderberries and Hawthorn berries at the end of the garden and then depositing colourful, sloppy droppings all over the place for unsuspecting humans to tread in. However the pheasant's appetites still aren't satisfied and they feel the need to raid the bird table as well :-)
We've been busy making soups, pickling onions etc. and wrapping our bumper crop of apples in paper to store in our now dry garage. This load of apples is probably just a third of what was on the tree and not many are damaged which is surprising since there is a wasps nest over our front door which is only about 6m away from the tree...
Autumn always brings back happy memories of both my childhood and that of my children's. It was always an outdoor family time of collecting fruit, woodland walks searching for conkers, kicking golden leaves around and stuffing them down an unsuspecting siblings jumper. The biggest and most colourful leaves were always saved and carefully taken home as treasure. Under the leaves were hidden worlds of bugs, beetles, mice and fungi and in the clefts of trees, magical pools formed, that my mother and in turn, myself, told the children were where fairies bathed :-))
The RSPB has recently said that only one in five 8-12 year olds in the UK have a realistic connection to nature. How sad that so many children and their parents are missing out on such fun and how insular and monochrome their lives must be as it is only through nature one realizes one's place on earth, that it is part of the biggest interactive game of survival that will surpass any computer game and it is full of colour and beauty. It is good to hear that the RSPB, along with a coalition of other organisations, is forming a Wild Network with an aim to kick start a change to get children reconnecting with nature...something we should all support. This is my eldest son when he was a child and the dog connecting with nature, watching a bird up in the Oak tree :-)
In the days when the fields behind us were cultivated, the harvest time had the added enjoyment for my children of the Combine coming round. As soon as we heard the familiar hum of its engine there would be a moment of panic until we managed to get the cat in and retrieve any of our hens that had strayed into the field. Next the washing was hurriedly brought in so it didn't get covered in dust and all the windows closed. Only then could we sit back and enjoy our children's excitement as this monster machine did its work..
The children particularly liked it when the farmer started making round bales as they were so big and each child could be king of their own castle. Such happy days :-)...
But then came the burning of the stubble. The children naturally found this very exciting but I hated its destructiveness and was pleased when it was stopped. However I was reading the other day that some farmers are wanting to start the practice again to control Black Grass which spreads a fungus to crops and is becoming resistant to conventional methods of control.
Then the farmer started experimenting with other crops and one year we had beautiful fields of baby blue Flax and the next a sunburst of yellow Oil Seed Rape which for a short time smelt quite nice but then for weeks smelt like rotten cabbage...we didn't have many BBQs that summer :-)))...
The children had the freedom of running in fields, climbing trees and picnicking surrounded by wild flowers...
It is nice to look back and I have been doing a lot of that since having my knee operation as I have been taking the opportunity to sort the many boxes of family photos, while slowly recovering. My knee is quite good now and I should soon be back to my volunteer work with the Downland Project's livestock. However it has been quite nice to have a break as the last couple of months of volunteering were hard and rather dispiriting.
At the end in August, there was an epic fly-strike involving the Projects 95 breeding ewes and lambs. It was caused by a very sudden and unusual change in weather. It was a critical situation where time was of the essence (in the right weather conditions fly eggs can hatch out in as little as 8 hours and the sheep can be dead within a day!!).
We worked so hard all day with hardly a break, until dusk, when there was just not enough light to see (my husband and I didn't get home until nearly 10pm!!). It was a painfully exhausting and a very distressing day but we did manage to save the majority of sheep, something a lot of people seem to forget.
Weaning this year had to be delayed a little while the sheep recovered from the fly strike but by then they had mostly weaned themselves so the task was a carried out very peacefully and without stress to them. Not so the humans though as a few days later, when the lambs were being taken to their various grazing sites to begin their careers as conservation grazing sheep, it rained and rained and rained and I found my wax jacket no longer had any wax...I was soaked through so another rather unpleasant day.
We then had another fly-strike on sheep that had been recently been sprayed so in theory this shouldn't have happened but such was the weather. This occurred on the Saturday we were replacing our garage roof so I left my husband and two sons to it and just the Grazing Officer and myself caught up the flock and treated the affected ones.
We have not been alone in suffering casualties from the flies as I have now heard of several farmers that lost sheep (and also a rabbit). I think the problem was due to unusual cold nights with heavy dew and mist, followed by hot humid days that brought the flies out, who promptly homed in on the damp fleeces to deposit their eggs, as all the strikes were over their backs, sides and undersides.
I genuinely don't mind helping, especially in emergency situations and I don't mind how often I am asked or how hard or horrible the work is. I know from many years of experience that not all livestock work can be fun but it has been nice to have a break and re-charge the batteries for a while:-)
To end on a happier note the Countryside Day that the Project runs each year in September brought everyone together and there was a good team spirit :-)). Despite the wet weather resulting in the actual day being a bit quiet in comparison to previous years, it was still a very happy day. This year we took along two lambs of each of the breeds that are used by the Project and it showed very well the differences in their temperaments with the laid back Herdwick lambs soon settling down to eat, the Jacobs cautiously following their example and the more nervous Beulahs sticking to the others like glue...
As mentioned in my last post, this year we tried to make the livestock stand more interesting with a lot more information and displays and we got good feedback with several people saying they hadn't realized that so much work and planning went into conservation grazing. The grazing assistant had also made an impressive display of dried chalk grassland wild flowers, each in its own specimen pot and labelled with information. Unfortunately the assistant has now left the Project and he will be missed by everyone including the animals and volunteers...who is going to offer to run all the way back to the Landrover now, just because one of us has left our coat in it...it was good working with you Sean and we wish you well :-)
So now I am enjoying, what I think is a well deserved rest while my knee gets better. The only thing I am missing like mad is the horse I ride. I can't wait to go out for a plod with her again. This is a rather blurry pic of my last ride the day before the op. Hopefully I'll soon be back but I can't help wondering if I should maybe make time for a horse of my own and perhaps even a small flock of rare breed sheep (I have my eye on some Soay lambs for sale nearby but the land I also have my eye on is very suitable, except it has too much ragwort and possibly too many dandelions (they are a diuretic), so it probably won't happen but it's nice thinking about it :-)))