Category Archives: Countryside and Wilderness

Argentinian no till solution

Faced with serious soil erosion farmers in Argentinia have adopted ‘not till‘ farming in which fields are not ploughed during the year. Crops and seeds are planted directly into last years stuble with minimum disturbance to the soil. Coupled with other best practice farming techniques such as rotation and insect management, erosion has been reduced by 90%, evaporation by 70%, soil quality,  biodiversity and production have all increased and CO2 production has decreased. In the UK there are a growing number of farmers finding that ‘no till’ is providing noticeable advantages and it is being encouraged alongside rivers to reduce the amount of silt that washes into the water from the fields.

Scottish Super Honey

Jar of honeyIf you have ever wondered why Manuka honey costs upwards of £30 for a small jar it is because it has unique antibacterial properties. This ability to fight pathogens is becoming increasingly important as microbes gain resistance to manufactured antibiotics and Manuka is widely used in the health care industries. Ordinary, unheated honey has long been used as a wound dressing due to it’s mildly antibacterial properties and it’s ability to stimulate healing. However Manuka honey, principally from New Zealand and made by bees feeding of the Manuka bush, and Tualang honey, a Malaysian multifloral jungle honey made by bees nesting in Tualang trees, have been found to have particularly strong medicinal properties. Both contain high levels of anticeptic phenols.

Now scientists at Queen Margaret University, Edinburgh, have found that honey produced by bees in certain Scottish coastal regions has similar antibacterial properties. The honey has been named Portobello honey after a small sea-side town a few miles out from Edinburgh.

Although Manuka honey had 10 times more polyphenols than Portobello honey, it was found that both honeys were equally as effective at killing three penicillin resistant bacteria. Dr Lorna Fyfe, Head of Microbiology and Immunology at Queen Mary’s is leading the research to identify the active components. It is believed that the antibacterial qualities are derived from chemicals manufactured by the plants on which the bees feed, in order to create their own bacterial resistance. Dr Fyfe believes that the most active honeys come from robust plants living on poor soils in tough environments. Blossom honeys are a lot less medically active than heather honeys. Tests will now be made on the honey’s effectiveness against super bugs and those that cause food poisoning.

Honey: A realistic antimicrobial for disorders of the skin.

Drones – a mixed blessing!

Drones worry me. Recently whilst walking up a hill in the Lake District we were followed by a drone videoing our progress. Not only did I feel this was a disruption of the solitude we had come to the Lake District to enjoy, but the sound of the drone, like a hive of angry bees, destroyed the ambience of the surrounding countryside, smothering the bird song and other tunes of nature. And now that we have Amazon trialing delivery by drone and other companies seeking to exploit this technology I worry that what little peace and quite we can find in our countryside will soon be lost.

However, the drone is a fascinating and disruptive piece of technology and some bright minds are finding innovative and beneficial applications. For example, BioCarbon Engineering are developing drones that can scatter tree seeds over an enormous area, re-foresting depleted lands on a scale not believed possible with conventional technologies. Watch this fascinating video for an explanation. The company envisages swarms of these drones re-planting many billions of trees!

Visit to Romshed Organic Farm

It was a very pleasant day to be shown around Romshed Farm, 175 acres of land used to raise mutton, hogget, lamb, cattle, pigs, chickens, eggs and ducks under organic principles with sections of ancient woodland, which are home to wood mice.

The visit was organised by The Soil Association and Lisa Jones, Head of Supporter Development was our cheerful coordinator.  Fidelity Weston, the farms owner, showed us around.

Two hereford cows grazing
Hereford cows

I knew something of the organic principles for managing the land such as planting clover to improve the nitrogen content but I did not realise how extensive the efforts are to keep organically grown animals free of chemicals and stress in order to produce an ethically sound, superior tasting product. But most impressive of all and the reason I shall be buying mainly organic meat from now on was the quality of life the animals live which could be clearly seen in their healthy condition and content, happy demeanour. Coupled with regulated, high level countryside stewardship the farm is a rich haven for wildlife and flora.

Rohmsted Farm is an approved supplier under the Pasture Fed Livestock Association rules which means their meat is available only to a seasonal calendar. To get the best out of the land and its location native breeds are selected.

Standard farming practices use antibiotics and pharmaceuticals on a regular basis. With organic farming there is a lot of planning and careful management to try and avoid these chemicals. For example livestock are moved around the farm to break the cycle of infection by parasitic worms rather than using worming compounds.

 

Saddleback sow and pigletts
Saddleback pigs

First we headed towards a field sown with clover where Saddleback pigs were happily grazing. A low electronic fence contained the pigs in sections of the field. Once the pigs graze all the vegetation the fence is moved so that the pigs have new food and do not grub up the naked soil. I have never seen pigs with so much space and on such healthy grazing and it was a real pleasure to see the happy piglets chasing each other around like a bunch of puppies!

The pigs need extra protein to bring them up to a decent stature which is supplied by soya. But Fidelity has concerns over the sustainable nature of the imported soya so the family is searching for a cost effective alternative such as sunflower seeds.

Large white table chickens in field
Table chickens

We made our way across fields rich in diverse flora and brown meadow butterflies, listening to the skylarks, until we reached the chicken pens. The farm nurtures both laying hens and table hens. I immediately noticed how thick the legs were of the chickens which was due to the amount of time they can spend in the open, scratching and running around. In an intensive chicken farm table hens have a lifespan of little more than 30 days. At Romshed it is 120 days. On an organic farm chickens have more space than that specified for free range chicken farms.

We moved on to see sheep and cattle all of which looked healthy and content. One Hereford calve was curious enough to come to the fence to investigate the visitors and pose for our cameras.

A rope and branch walkway for wood mice
Wood mouse walkway

The farm has areas of woodland that are home to wood mice. In order to support the wood mice population the farm is planting hedgerows to link the woodland areas, using native species such as hawthorn, blackthorn, oak, briar, etc. At times the family fell trees to supply the wood burning stoves . If the felling leaves gaps between the trees a walkway created from rope, branches and twigs is slung between the trees so the wood mice are not hampered in their travels.

Hedgerows are cut biannually, late in the year, so as not to destroy berries and nuts needed by the wildlife.

Large meadow with wild flowers
Wild flower meadow

As we returned to the farmhouse we walked through a meadow with a diverse mixture of wild flowers that had been planted from seed taken from an established wild flower meadow in Sussex with similar clay soils. Back at the farm we were treated to tea and biscuits and had a good chat about the farm and other green issues.

 

 

 

 

It was a lovely way to spend an afternoon and now I have seen how much better is the life of an animal raised on an organic farm I will be buying much more organic produce.

 

Footnotes;

Wide field margin between crop and hedgerow
Wide field margin

The photo to the left shows a wide margin between the crop of triticale and the hedgerow. This provides a good environment for voles and mice which in turn provides food for predators such as owls who perch and nest in the hedgerows.

 

 

Pollarded oak tree
Pollarded oak tree

The oak tree to the right has several unusual uprights. It used to be that the villagers had the right to remove wood from the hedgerows and as a result the tree was regularly pollarded. They lost this right many years ago so now the tree has grown many upright limbs.

Wild foraging and feasting!

School of the Wild Meetup group
School of the Wild Meetup group

Sloe berry patties, hawthorn berry leather, elder berry cordial, rosehip infusion – these were a few of the delights cooked over a smoking wood fire at the School of The Wild’s wild food walk.

Wild food expert Milly Hawkins introduced us to both familiar and unusual hedgerow rewards and – perhaps as useful as the identification skills – Milly showed us simple ways to prepare and cook the produce in order to get the best out of them.

Milly, who holds qualifications in health science, nutrition and environmental conservation, has had a passion for wild foods since childhood. She has also worked extensively with The East Sussex Archaeology and Museums Partnership and ethno botanist Professor Gordon Hillman to research the foods of indigenous Britain. Milly is a mine of information for the keen forager and enthusiastically imparts her knowledge to both adult and child.

Rewarded by warm, bright weather (in October!?) we spent an enjoyable time beside the fire learning about and experiencing the qualities of wild food. This was followed by an informative wander through the woods of Stanmer Park, where us amateurs were finally able to put names to plants commonly seen on our walks, to understand how they fitted into the surrounding ecology and which we could eat and which to avoid.

The School of the Wild is a MeetUp group run by Nigel Berman that focuses on getting back to nature. Past meet-ups have included wild swimming and fire making and next month Milly will be showing us how acorns can be turned into food!’

Help Maintain Footpaths

Big Path Watch Logo
Big Path Watch Logo

The Ramblers – an organisation dedicated to public access of the countryside – have launched their most ambitious campaign ever, ‘Big Pathwatch’ (England and Wales only).

The aim of the campaign is to encourage walkers to record the condition of footpaths using a mobile app. The app enables walkers to report obstructions or difficulties encountered on the paths such as fallen trees, water-logged sections, broken styles, etc. Walkers can upload a picture of the problem using the app. Also pictures showing the positive features of the path such as good views or items of interest can be uploaded too. Experiences can be shared on Facebook or Twitter.

The app enables walkers to choose a 1km square grid from an Ordnance Survey Explorer map in which they will explore and report upon all the footpaths in that square. There is detailed information in the FAQ pages

If you are not already registered you will need to register with the Ramblers in order to take part.

If you are registered you can go straight to the Big Pathwatch ‘Get Involved’ page.

The Big Pathwatch app can be downloaded from the Apple AppStore or from Google play.

Fungi Forage in Surrey

Plate of wild fungi
Plate of wild fungi

Last Sunday I joined Andy Overall of fungitobewith.org to forage for wild Mushrooms. Andy organises various fungi focused events such as foraging walks, workshops, dinners, etc. Needless to say his knowledge is extensive.

As a child we used to visit relatives in Germany and uncle Rudi would take us into the forest to gather wild mushrooms. I was fascinated by the fungi we gathered – red, blue, green, yellow, purple – all sorts of things I would have considered as inedible or poisonous.

Andy’s trip did not disappoint and he took us to woodland rich in edible fungi. I came home with some Bay Boletes, Yellow Russulas, Chicken-in-the-Woods, Tawny Grizettes  and Polyporus Tuberaster found growing on a birch branch.

Cooking the mushrooms is also an art. The Grizettes must be well cooked otherwise they are poisonous. Many are more delicate than our standard supermarket mushrooms so must be lightly cooked. Those with spongy textures are good for marinating and soaking up a tasty stock.