Several decades ago, the majority of the population in a rural area such as ours were either actually engaged in agriculture or relied upon it, one way or another, for their livelihood. Now only a very small percentage fall into either category. I daresay in those far off days the need to demonstrate to the public the how and why of farming was never considered. Most folk knew anyway, and the farming methods certainly changed very slowly so one grew up with it as a matter of course. Times change, and now there seem so many political and ecological issues involving farming and the countryside that everyone, fuelled by the press, is getting involved. This has been recognized quite quickly by the farming industry, recently led and encouraged by The National Farmers Union. Mr Farmer has put himself in the “shop window” as it were. The “shop window” on this particular wet and cold summer evening was at Dennington. Several good citizens from a wide area, some better prepared than others for the wet evening and the mud, had the privilege of having explained the story behind this large family arable and dairy farm. Great thought over many years has been given to ensuring the farm was efficient and that it should provide a good environment for the flora and fauna. Not an easy “balancing act” to achieve. Hedgerows were retained, ponds provided a good habitat for most aquatic life and field size was modest. Tree planting in suitable corners of the farm practised. Even the dairy herd consisted of the more traditional British Friesian, which has largely been ousted by the Canadian Holstein Breed. Altogether a fine example of profitable farming that also accommodates a friendly environment for the natural world too.
With the same object in mind, the owner of a large arable farm in our Parish of Earl Soham has gone about achieving the same ends in a different way. Twelve percent of his arable acreage must be “set aside” to comply with EC rules. There are various ways of doing this. He elected a system which provides the required twelve percent of “set aside” land around the perimeter of each field. This is a border 20 metres wide. The 3 meters nearest the crop will be cultivated to keep down the weeds. The next 8 meters towards the field edge will be allowed to revert to what ever grows there naturally, but will be mown occasionally. Then finally the last 9 meters nearest the hedgerow will just be allowed to grow as it wishes. Imagine then what an excellent variety of cover, food and habitat this area will provide for “all creatures great and small”. The system will probably remain for several years and over many acres a great natural highway will evolve which should in effect replace the lost hedgerows of the smaller fields of a former age. Already this year I am convinced our wild birds have benefited. Maybe once again a walk besides a field of wheat will be accompanied by not just the occasional skylark trill but a grand chorus of them, as I well remember it used to be.
Even our local cemetery is doing its bit to assist embattled nature. Two bat boxes are well placed on the Scots pines. Probably the pipistrelle, our smallest and most frequently seen bat, will take advantage of this thoughtfulness.