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Farming for nature

A few days ago I went for a post-Christmas walk across the farm and took this photo of the pond at the bottom of Big Meadow, the 15 acre field at the front of the farm. I used to call the pond 'the copse' even though it has always been marked on the map as a pond. There were so many overgrown trees and 'scrub' around it that you would never know there was a pond there, fed by one of the natural springs at the top of Pitchcott ridge, where the sand and loamy soil meets the heavy clay. But water would never stay in the pond for long as it would run off through an outlet drain underground and into the ditches within the hedgerows.

Over the past two years I have been working with the Freshwater Habitats Trust to bring the water back to the surface of the land, so that it stays in the ponds for longer and brings all the benefits of a wetter and wilder landscape, including natural flood management, and a biodiverse habitat for wetland plants and wildlife. First of all we removed the scrub from this pond and two of the other existing ponds on the farm. In the photos above you can see how one of the black poplars, a rare tree species that flourishes in the damp soils of Aylesbury Vale, has been pollarded and is now regenerating. The black poplar on the other side of the pond sadly fell during one of last winter's storms, but even it too is coming back to life, sprouting 'shooters' from the base of its severed trunk. The pond is now bathed in light and it will be fascinating to see the diversity of plants and other life that will emerge when warmth and new growth returns in the spring.

Each time I return to the farm there is always something new, and it amazes me how quickly the landscape changes alongside the seasons. When I started this steep journey of learning from the land, I was fortunate to have the opportunity to enrol the farm in a pilot scheme for one of the government's new agri-environment schemes, the Sustainable Farming Incentive. I have now completed the first two years of the 3-year pilot, and have been writing a Learning Journal in which I have included photos to record the learning process. When I started writing it at the beginning of 2022 it was not aimed at an audience other than myself and perhaps DEFRA should they ever ask to see it. So while my focus was initially on the SFI standards and what I was doing to fulfil them on my farm, after a while I started to write about all my learning including visits to other farms or estates such as Elmley Nature Reserve and the rewilding at Knepp.

So I am now sharing it here, starting with the first year - 2022 - and I will write a further blog in the new year with links to the second year - 2023.

In the next blog I will also tell you more about the restoration of a natural floodplain in Marston Meadow, for now I leave you with another photo from my walk, and wish you a happy, restorative and regenerating new year.


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