Society members had a memorable afternoon exploring the farm hosted by Michael Williams and his daughter Nicola. Between them, Michael, his wife Barbara and daughter / husband manage this fascinating enterprise – a fairly small farm of some 140 Ha.
Members heard, up-front, that the business objective was to unite wildlife and landscape conservation with profitable agriculture – no small task !
Thereafter members were taken on a circular tour during which the hosts imparted a wealth of interesting facts. For instance, laying effective hedges is surprisingly sophisticated. The goal being to provide a natural barrier between fields that provides wide-ranging habitats for birds and insects, whilst having a structure and density that prevents such hedges becoming a “covered” through-routes for the likes of foxes and badgers. A successful hedge will support a wide variety of bird species and insects resulting in pest reductions that can lead to a lessor or complete cessation of pesticide use.
The farm’s focus is on growing cereal crops such as wheat, barley and oats with essentially no animals. However the means to do this successfully requires a highly technical approach with with specialised machinery. Importantly major works such as planting and harvesting are carried out by third part contractors, cooperatively with other farms.
Varying environments, such as soil quality and levels of drainage require different approaches, sometimes areas are planted with “experimental” species such as chicory and flowering plants.
Regarding the agriculturally productive fields, it was interesting to hear of the multiple reasons for relatively wide perimeter bands around each crop. For instance: machines’ access without damaging hedges, minimisation of fertiliser run-off, obviating essential sprays from damaging the hedges and the like.
The importance of woodland was emphasised – with the “gold star” aim being oak woods. These woods can provide for the highest number of species of any tree. However, again, establishing an oak wood is surprisingly complex. Oak seedlings need to be initially protected by such species as birch, hazel and cherry. Only later can these be thinned to allow the oaks to flourish.
With the afternoon fading, members retired to the farm house conservatory where refreshments were served.
The success of the event was evidenced by a succession of thoughtful questions put to William and Nicola.
A vote of thanks was given and members left with a much enhanced understanding of “sympathetic farming”.
Ian Hardie, Events Manager, 16th October 2023