Michael Johnson – Conservation Graduate Trainee
What made this workshop different to others I’ve attended was the emphasis that was placed upon the invertebrate population and their place within the ecosystem as a whole. Yes, there was the need to make a living from the land; however, in this case there wasn’t a trade-off with ecological responsibility. The farmer was happy to support the conservation interest of his land and at the same time able to make money.
The farm was managed in order to both maximise profitability in terms of hay production for sale and to create species rich hay meadows by growing species such as Ox-Eye Daisy, Yellow Rattle, Plantain, Lesser Trefoil, Eye-bright and Red Clover which supports populations of native pollinators. The local provenance flower and grass seeds were also harvested and sold on to local collectives, other farmers, and the Northumberland National Park to enhance, restore and create buffer strips and meadow areas elsewhere in the area.
The concept of leaving field margins as wild areas on farms is not a new one, yet here there was quite a novel take on the notion – separate fenced off areas within a field that equated to perhaps a tenth of the total field size that were planted some weeks after the initial fields were sown, not cut for hay, not aftermath grazed and just left so that pollinators would have a ready and available food source throughout the season and after the main fields were harvested so as to enhance their potential and give the pollinators more of a chance to survive the winter.
There is the idea of maximising productivity from managing available land intensively; I believe that when considering what makes our land profitable – the role of the pollinators in food and crop production cannot be overlooked in the quest for productivity.
There are different ways to create species rich grassland. One is to cut a flower rich hay crop before the plants in it set seed and then spread this ‘green hay’ mix onto harrowed and disturbed ground, and then use aftermath grazing to remove the rank vegetation that is a by-product of the process. Potential problems with this method is that the process is very time sensitive – the time from cutting, collecting, transporting and spreading is very short due to the natural enzymes and chemicals within the decomposing vegetation causing the plant material to heat up and therefore contributing to the seeds denaturing and reducing their germination effectiveness. The addition of livestock to trample the seed into the ground and remove the rank vegetation can contribute to the nitrogen and mineral levels in the soil, making it more fertile and therefore susceptible to encroachment and colonisation by weeds and perennials such as thistle and dock.
I think that the alternative of collecting the seed with a specialist seed harvester from the plants still in situ means these problems are dissipated and lessened; there is no time urgency for removal and transportation, no need for aftermath grazing to separate out the seed and no over fertility issues in adding more nutrients to the soil.
The aim of this post isn’t to nay-say and dispute traditional and existing land management methods, just to highlight another potential option for sustainable land management.