When you ask people to come to an “outside” party in Britain desperately hoping for good weather, you are playing the lottery! Well, as you can see from the photos that follow, God really was on our side!
We kicked off with coffee and Mrs Hamilton’s delicious baking. Johnny then set the scene describing his 20-year project – a project to revert to a more gentle // less intensive way of farming – and in the process return some of his newly acquired farmland to nature. Let him explain in his own words:
“Firstly, thank you all very much for coming. Secondly, a bit of history. We bought Mordington Farm in 1986 and in 1992 we added a further 100 acres of upland pasture known as Mordington Hill. Acres of green fields without hedgerows or trees – save one lone thorn bush – fashioned a picture of desolation – like a wasteland. They were sterile. We decided then and there to re-invigorate the land and make it a home for songbirds. 20 years on and the land is humming – literally! I hope you will enjoy our wildflower meadows and I apologise in advance if you don’t get very close to the songbirds today – at this time of year, the hedgerows provide so many wonderful places to hide! I want now (if I may) to use this opportunity to lay a ghost. The wildflower meadows are not just beautiful to look at. They are not just a haven for insects and birds. They are the pillars which support a return to a more environmentally friendly method of farming”
(An extended explanation of Johnny’s thoughts on the virtues of environmentally friendly farming can be found in Annex 1,)
So off we all set to look at the meadows. The experience of seeing them for the first time was even better than I had hoped – you could see and feel the difference – I felt my shoulders drop!
Michael Williams counted 13 different varieties of wildflowers – Yellow Rattle, Plantain, Oxeye Daisy, Lady’s Bedstraw, Knapweed, Red Campion, Bugle, Yarrow Birdseye Trefoil, Vetch, Scabious, Self-Heal, Fumitory & Clover amongst others. One of the most interesting sights was the contrast between Johnny’s meadows and the neighbouring pig farm. One is alive with flocks of songbirds; the other is home only to scavengers like crows – hundreds of them. (The drone shots taken from the air give you some idea.)
Back we went for a slap-up picnic lunch in the marquee provided by Moira Kay. A most informative talk followed from the Chairman of Songbird Survival, Colin Strang Steel. He and his wife April have a farm near Lauder. Like Johnny & Julia, they have set aside part of their farm for species that were once common but who are fast running out of habitat – in their case waders such as Curlew and Lapwing.
Colin spoke for 10 minutes without notes spelling out the work that Songbird Survival does – in particular they provide money for scientists to research and write papers about the problems that songbirds encounter and suggest ways that Government could legislate for their survival. A couple of facts resonated – cats are responsible for up to 90 million songbird deaths a year – simple measures to reduce these deaths include
- feeding them a high protein diet which reduces the number of preys brought home by 36% and
- playing with them for 5-10 minutes a day leads to a 25% fall in the number of preys.
Badgers are also a huge problem particularly to ground nesting birds like waders in that they take their eggs as well as fledglings. Badgers which are protected by no less than two Acts of Parliament have expanded in numbers from around 50,000 in the UK in 1970 to well over 500,000 now.
This was followed by questions. I remember one vividly. It was along the lines of, “absolutely wonderful Johnny what you have done, but surely without neighbours to follow your example, aren’t you just scratching the surface?” Answer. “You are quite right – you need other farmers to do the same. Even setting aside just small amounts of hedgerow and meadow will provide for our songbirds with corridors of protection (from raptors) and sources of food. Government subsidies will help. Otherwise, you are right – we are just scratching the surface.”
Oh, and just one other matter. One of our guests asked me whether there was a financial return on wildflowers? I couldn’t run fast enough out of the marquee to present him and his wife with two pots of delicious Mordington Farm honey!
And that ended a most memorable day. Thank you to Johnny, Julia, and Colin for the work you are doing and the inspiration you give.
PS If you would like to become a member of Songbird Survival, here is the link https://www.songbird-survival.org.uk/
Annex 1 – Johnny’s Approach – the technicals
Wildflower meadows are a “win win” says Johnny Trotter of Mordington Farm
When properly established, wildflower meadows, which are usually cut in August, produce a crop of Hay or Hayledge. This nutritious crop is fed to cattle and other livestock. The fields are then heavily grazed by sheep for three months. So, I believe that the agricultural methods we use to produce meadow hay are no different from those used to produce grass pasture hay. Of course, I accept that the volume of meadow hay is slightly lighter than pure grass. Crucially, however, meadow hay has been produced without applying nitrate fertiliser to achieve higher yields. I think we have begun to appreciate that the present intensive use of nitrate fertiliser is not sustainable. And recent studies have shown that one of the main reasons for the disastrous decline in fish stock numbers is nitrate run off -after heavy rain – into our water courses and rivers. (For example, the river Wye’s annual salmon catch has declined from 6,000 to 250 over a period of 50 years.)
The wildflower meadows have a further huge benefit to food production. They create a sustainable environment for insect life. There is serious concern that the present dramatic decline in insect life will have a disastrous effect on food production unless reversed. Insects of all types are vital to pollinate our food crops. Bees are obviously some of the most important pollinators, and they produce wonderful honey, some of which is produced here at Mordington. The other wonderful by product of creating a better farm environment is the big increase in many varieties of songbirds which we now have here.
Wildflower meadows are a win win. We need more of them. Many more of them. All of us – not just farmers – must play our part in trying to protect the world for future generations.
JH Trotter, Mordington Farm
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