The Island branch of the NFU presented us with its conservation award. This lovely trophy, given to us at the AGM, was in recognition of all our conservation works. It is always an honour to receive an award but to be recognised by the Island’s farming community is something very special.
Forty five yearling steers and heifers were released into the pastures and have now settled down quietly. The main pastures, instead of being divided into several small separate zones are now being connected so we will have two large blocks for extensive grazing and roaming.
During the summer we will need to step back and observe of how the farm works best for us and how the wildlife is responding to our management.
Two great events. Firstly, our two young bulls departed en route for the Highland Cattle Society’s Spring Show and Sale at Oban in early February. Secondly, on the 31st January, this year’s first calf was born to Kerrie 2nd of Earn, Oban’s Champion Female at its October 2005 Sale.
Either a dog or a fox spooked Kerrie shortly after calving and she immediately disappeared with her calf into the thick thorn bushes in her field. Neither she nor her calf could be seen for two days.
The three year old bull Iasgair and the two year old Cabhlaiche 2nd of Mottistone left our farm for Charlie Maclean at Fair Oak to be prepared for their onward journey to Oban. When they departed, we were full of hope but soon came down to earth when we saw the quality of the catalogue. A sharp increase in numbers entered for both two and three year old bulls which meant a higher standard but, damagingly, lower prices for all but the very best. They could not be in better hands than Charlie Maclean’s because he is renowned as a cattle showman par excellence.
The weather has been strange. Over the winter the hills have been lost in the clouds less frequently. The Wroxall pond and ditches have run dry, although in the early part of the month we had a considerable rain fall. Because of last year’s dry summer, however, the rain did not drain through the ground and thus left the top wet, slippery and prone to poaching by cattle. Then came a series of moisture-free heavy frosts, which, together with the consistently cold easterly winds, virtually freeze-dried the grass, taking all the goodness out of it. Thankfully, last summer we made plenty of excellent quality hay!
This is a good time of year for woodland management. The sap is down and the ground cover has been largely cleared by the frost, wind and rains. Wayne Isaacson, Barry’s brother, has completed this year’s thinnings in North and South Rowlands and has coppiced another acre coupe in Wroxall Copse – the third year running. In about six weeks’ time, when the spring vegetation emerges, we will really begin to see the benefits.
On New Year’s Bank Holiday David Biles hosted his annual joint meet for the foxhounds and beagles on his farm at Gotten Leaze. It was an excellent occasion and, arguably, at no other event can one now find so many of the Isle of Wight’s farming community enjoying the occasion and mixing together.
The foxhounds departed for their trail hunting and the beagles were vaned up to Brighstone Down from where they hunted rabbits. It was a most beautiful day with magical clear views in the warm sunshine. Scent, however, was poor and, often, as soon as a rabbit was out of sight the hounds could not hunt a yard. Nevertheless, two brace were killed.
The Rookley rabbit hounds, a mix of beagles, lurchers and terriers, visited Wroxall again to hunt on St Martin’s Down. Scent too was poor but two and a half brace were killed.
To support the Rowborough Shoot, which has the shooting rights on the land we tenant at Idlecombe and Rowborough, I took a let day and entertained nine IW farmers. We had a thoroughly enjoyable time. There can be no better company than IW farmers. The birds were well presented and some excellent shooting enjoyed. It was particularly pleasing to see Chris Brown shoot so well. He had a brilliant right and left, and supported by his daughter Izzy, courageously lasted the whole day.
Not being a shooting person, I walked in the morning with the beaters for the three drives, but stood with the guns in the fourth and only drive after lunch. The shoot’s organisation has greatly improved in is second season – it is now a very professional operation. With 125 birds compared to 200 last year, the pressure was taken off us and our hosts. It was all the more enjoyable. Far more so than a day with high numbers.
Under this government, the individual has already lost too many of its freedoms, especially from the Hunting Act. The League Against Cruel Sports will obviously not issue its staff with redundancy notices and so it is natural that it is now turning its attention towards shooting. Provided, however, the shooting fraternity manages itself well it has little to fear. It needs, however, to look at itself for two reasons – unnecessary high number of birds and a conflict with conservation.
There is no excuse or reason for high bags (numbers shot). On our day each participant averaged 14 ½ birds, or just over 3 ½ per drive. They enjoyed it far more than if they had been shooting a total bag of between 500 and 600 for the day. At those levels it is no longer sport – it has a whiff of killing for enjoyment or ego satisfaction.
High bags mean that many pheasants are bred and put out in pens in the woods before being released into the wild. In ancient woodland, where ground flora can be of high conservation value, too many pheasants in the pens cause irreparable damage to the ground vegetation. We believe shooting must seriously consider this issue if it is to avoid the tag of being a negative force for conservation.
Last month we wrote about the deliberate killing of six sheep by a 4x4 on the Brownrigg’s farm over which the Tennyson Trail passes. On the Bank Holiday Monday I stopped severn motor cyclists using the trail on my land, all of whom were driving illegally and without insurance.
Pressure is now being put on the Council to close the trail to all motorised traffic. Wight Conservation supports the closure. On the SSSI at Mottistone Down, where most of the damage on our part of the trail occurs, continued use at the present rate will place our statutory maintenance responsibilities and liabilities at risk.
Congratulations to James Cracknell who with Ben Fogle won the pairs class in the Transatlantic rowing race. James and his wife, Beverley, together with their son Croyde, were some of our first visitors to our newly opened self-catering Dairy Barn at Wroxall Cross Farm.
During the month Quality in Tourism, the assessment service provider for VisitBritain, paid us their annual appraisal visit and without qualification renewed it at 5*. For more details CLICK HERE.
Wight Conservation is a member of the Isle of Wight’s Red Squirrel Forum. It held its annual meeting in January. It was interesting and informative. As the Red Squirrel continues its expected decline on mainland Britain, the IW will become of even greater importance for its survival. The danger of Grey Squirrels ever gaining a foot hold on the Island is fully recognized and we must be forever alert to it. There is a refreshing co-operation between all the statutory and voluntary bodies to prevent this.
Over recent months we have revamped much of our website to make it more informative, interesting and user friendly. This has resulted in a sharp increase in visitors. Thank you for finding us. We hope you can recommend us to your friends.
Shortly there will be a major improvement in our wildlife sections.
Our three year old Highland bull, Iasgair of Mottistone, won the Champion Bull award at the Highland Cattle Society’s Spring Show and Sale at Oban at the beginning of February. More next month!