Thursday 21 September, 2023

In Your Field: James Robinson - 'After only 24 hours, I have heard 36 species'

As I write this, a few neighbours’ mowers are buzzing around in the distance.

clock • 3 min read
In Your Field: James Robinson - 'After only 24 hours, I have heard 36 species'

I can hear them as the door is wide open to the back garden, but our back garden has a better crop of grass on than some of our meadows, so I think I'll leave our big mowers in the shed just yet and hope for another growy week to boost grass up a bit more. ('Growy' apparently isn't even a word according to my computer. Whoever wrote the dictionary obviously wasn't a grassland farmer)

Last Tuesday I headed down into London to give evidence at the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Efra) Committee's soil inquiry in the House of Commons.

I was there representing the Nature Friendly Farming Network (NFFN) on a panel to help form the Efra committee's recommendations which it will present to Defra, that in turn will be used to build future Government agricultural policy and support.

I was well prepared for all the questions the committee asked thanks to the excellent team that works behind the scenes within NFFN, but initially it was still a nerve-wracking experience, although by the end I was very much enjoying the whole thing.

It is good to see the background to how policy and support are created, and the unified aims of all the four witnesses on the panel was refreshing to be a part of.

We all backed the need for schemes to show ambition and a future pathway laid out to give farmers some idea of the direction of travel, because at the moment we feel like we are poised at the start line of a marathon, but we don't yet know which way we are supposed to running in.

The sessions are all available to watch online, just Google - Efra committee and then ‘All Events' - then Soil Health evidence session, May 9.

Back home (and back to reality) the cows are enjoying the nice grazing conditions down the far end of the farm. They are milking well off some of the herbal leys we have sown over the past few years.

The leys seem to have great growth in all conditions, the deeper roots helping to retain soil moisture better and the cows love the diversity they are getting with each mouthful.

However, I am not sure about the persistency of things such as plantain and chicory, they look like they will need some over-sowing every four to five years to keep a decent number of plants within the more vigorous perennial rye grass and white clover.

I always try and walk down to fetch the cows back for afternoon milking, the three quarters of a mile stroll is a good time to listen to podcasts or to enjoy the nature that is on the farm. I have recently downloaded a fantastic app called Merlin Bird ID, it has an ability to identify birds quite accurately by just their song or call.

After only 24 hours I have heard 36 different species, most while walking for the cows, but some whilst I do a job like changing the electric fence as the cows quietly wander home, gently mooing as they go.

I just leave it on the wall and come back five minutes later to see what it has heard.

In that short time I was amazed to see that it had heard six different birds including a bittern Wow, I thought. A Bittern. Then I played the audio sample to check - the bittern has an uncanny resemblance to a cow quietly wandering home, gently mooing.

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