March was an interesting month and many observations were made.
The snowdrops were late appearing, but they lasted an unusually long time, between six and eight weeks, right through to the end of the month.
Normally during the first fortnight of March the woods and banks become carpeted with ramsons’ leaves (wild garlic). When hunting, their overpowering smell would often mask the fox’s scent. By the end of March they had hardly sprouted at all and there were certainly no green carpets. In Rowborough the tops of their leaves had all been eaten off. It was not in a rabbit area and one can only assume that it was rats.
Likewise, the primroses and cowslips have all been late; unusually no cowslips flowered during month and only the occasional primrose.
There has been more than usual badger activity
at Wroxall, Rew and even at our mainland home.
Barry shot a rabbit in a field on Wroxall Manor Farm but left it while he went to inspect the cattle. When he returned, he saw a buck rabbit sniff the carcass and then proceed to mount it! Barry shot him in the act.
To see what would happen, Barry laid out 15 dead rabbits in a row in the field behind the Farmhouse. Within the first morning, crows had removed the eyes from all the carcasses. In the afternoon, two buzzards were observed there. On the second day only two and a half carcasses were left and by the third day all had gone. This is quite a plunder in such a short period and one can only assume they were taken by foxes, badgers and buzzards.
Shortly prior to completion, a lovely 180 year plus ash tree down by Rew Farm buildings was blown over. On examining the root structure, it was remarkable how it had totally grown round a sizeable lump of rock.
When making the monthly bird observation walks, the Watsons comment on interesting wildlife features.
"Mammals -One vixen crossing Barn Ground. She ignored, and was ignored by, two sparring cock pheasants, passing close to them." "Plants - Plant of the walk was the unexpected huge stand (6m x 1m) of Butcher’s Broom (Ruscus aculeatus) halfway along the thick hedge between Upper and Lower Cow Leaze. This plant is commoner in the northern half of the Wight and the current Flora shows only two 1km squares where the plant is present south of gridline 80 (which passes through Wroxall village) so your patch is an unknown one.
In walking Rowlands and Chillingwood, Graham Sparshott reported, "the late cold snap has held up the spring with local birds slow to set up territory and migrants fairly late to arrive. In addition to the commoner breeding species, highlights in March concerned a Woodcock and a singing male Siskin. The latter is more likely to be a lingering winter visitor."
At Rew Daphne and Michael Watson carried out their second monthly walk. This time it was more productive and 273 birds of 30 different species were identified. Birds new to the count included Buzzard, Feral Pigeon, Green Woodpecker, Great Spotted Woodpecker, Meadow Pipit, Long-tailed Tit, Jay, Raven, Greenfinch and Yellowhammer. Notable omissions were Sparrow Hawk, although a kill by this species was noted, Starling, Mistletoe Thrush, Skylark, Goldcrest and Treecreeper. The rookery was unoccupied, possibly because of farm activity and disturbance in their area.
We are very grateful to Graham Sparshott and the Watsons. Their work on our behalf adds much to the interest of our properties. The Watsons’ observations are regarded as a base count against which in the future we will be able to measure the results of our activities against the bird habitat improvements we are making.
David Harvey, the previous owner of Rew Farm, had contracted with Forest Enterprise to join its Jigsaw Project. This involved the planting of deciduous trees linking up various woods, thereby reducing the fragmentation. This helps both the red squirrel and the dormouse populations. Ventnor Golf Club and neighbouring farmer, Robert Corrie, have co-operated and now, after several centuries, Rew Copse is reconnected to Appledurcombe Wood. The new planting is all on existing open farmland. 100% grants are offered by Forest Enterprise and compensation is paid over a 15 year period for the loss of agricultural land use. Our planting consisted of ash (20%), field maple (10%), wild cherry (10%), shrubs (10%), hazel (40%) and the rest made up of elder, hawthorn, guilder rose, dogwood, spindle, field rose and dog rose. Hugh Milner, of Forest Enterprise, kindly agreed to us deleting beech, Scots pine, blackthorn or wild privet due to our previous experience of these species either being grown on chalkland or their possible adverse impact on grazing animals. The area, which covers 1.01 ha, was planted by Tony Ridd of the Isle of Wight Hedgerow Group. Forest Enterprise will pay to maintain the planting for three years. We look forward to watching the site’s progress.
Barry King completed his work, breaking up the gorse on Idlecombe Down into a number of compartments. After having scalloped the straight lines of gorse along the main ride, he is now virtually finished with all the clearance work on this sector. Next year we will start on rotational coppicing of the gorse over a 10 year period.; The impact on wildlife should be dramatic.
Longmead, the field opposite Rew Farmhouse, is very wet and unusable over the winter months. It could, however, have interesting conservation features. Over the summer we will clear the field of nettles and docks. As a start, however, we have dug out the ditch and dug a small trial pond which, depending upon how it fares throughout the summer, we might enlarge in order to make a wildlife and landscape feature.
As we worked in the field, we found many "funnies" including dangerous open pits which had been hidden by weeds, and an unrecorded GPO telephone line which served the top half of the valley!
Adam Wright, our entomological consultant, will this year survey the SSSI and cSAC Mottistone Down and the adjoining Coombe Plantation. The results will be available in the autumn.
The first of our ten year Countryside Stewardship Schemes expires this summer. We hope that the whole of our farm will come under Higher Level (HLS) or Entry Level (ELS) Schemes. Dr Jemma Batten will apply on our behalf. We are, however, in danger of failing to meet the application deadlines because of DEFRA’s total inability to provide us with the official field maps. The maps go backwards and forwards between our Agent and the RPA (Rural Payments Agency). The RPA totally fails to take in the information we give and produces its own inaccurate ideas. The maps have so far been returned by us five times for correction!
By the end of the month, 34 calves had been born compared to only 7 last year. The first Champion heifer we purchased, Lucy of Balure, produced a lovely heifer calf by Ruairidh of Glengarnock (Rory) who was Champion Male at the Royal Highland Show in 1999. The heifers sent to Iasgair, our homebred bull which was Champion at Oban in February, have successfully calved. We have some really lovely calves, especially those sired by Rory and Iasgair.
Not surprisingly, the weather and its vagaries are continuing to have a major impact on our activities and cattle. At the beginning of the month we had some heavy rain followed by a long dry spell with several days of harsh easterly winds and frosts. There was a period of snow and, at the end of the month,
the rains came again. Spring has been delayed;
at Wroxall there has been virtually no re-growth
of grass (although there has been at Rew) and
as we write the grazing situation is beginning to
In the last six years we have experienced two exceptional extremes of weather. To begin with at Preshaw we had floods which caused old, redundant water courses to run again for the first time in 50 or more years. Our office was flooded and the drive became a running stream which was impassable for several weeks. This winter none of the spring-fed bournes have run at all – the first time that I can remember.
By the end of the month the Government had only paid 6% of monies due to farmers under the new SPS. Our Single Payments pack, long over due, had not been received by the month end. The Government promised the majority of all farmers’ payments would be met by the end of March and now it is doubtful whether they can be completed by the EEC deadline in June. Last year farmers lost the majority of their grants which were to be replaced by the new SPS and the Agro-Environmental Schemes. As beef farmers, the loss of subsidies on our individual cattle has caused a sharp down turn in the direct income per head. Margaret Beckett, the DEFRA Minister, has shown herself to be incompetent and obviously has no hold whatsoever on her brief. She is totally at sea and lost in everything she does. It is a pity because I once thought she had sex appeal! The Minister and the leading officials at DEFRA must together rank as forming the most incompetent ministry in the whole of Europe.
The renovations following its purchase continue. There have, however, been some nasty and expensive shocks. A number of load bearing beams, which were hidden from the survey, have been found to be totally rotten and in danger of collapsing. They will be expensive to repair. After stripping down a roof valley, which was known to be leaking, it has been found to be far more serious than we previously thought. The timbers were totally sodden and soft.
The Isle of Wight Foot Beagles kindly put in a bye day on the 7th March at Idlecombe after finishing their season. It was pouring with rain and we all got soaked to the skin. Hounds killed 10 rabbits which made their visit well worth while. The surprise was that despite the dreadful weather conditions, instead of being warm and snug down holes, they were still found on top of the ground. Their tally compares to 9,000 or so rabbits which were trapped regularly each year by Roy Morris’ father between the two Wars, the income from which he used to pay his farm rent. Thousands more need to be culled but it is easier said than done.
Robert Taylor died during the month and his memorial service was held at Gatcombe Church. It was a poignant occasion, especially as his farm comes right up to the church grounds. Robert’s family has farmed on the Island for centuries. He was one of the most respected farmers. A former Chairman of the Hunt and of the Royal Isle of Wight Agricultural Society, he was fully involved in the rural community. His widow, Anne, used to be Joint Master of the Beagles.
In his younger days he learnt his hunting from the legendary Arthur Dalgety whose mastership is still spoken about nearly 50 years after it ended.
The Church was full, - not even standing room left. The Isle of Wight farming and rural community made up most of the congregation. Robert’s love of both farming and hunting was woven wonderfully into the service. The final reading was from Jorrocks and was about his love of the hound and the fox.I was angry on leaving the Church. The funeral was evidence of the pivotal role that hunting plays in country life and how it bound the farming community together. At a stroke MP’s have wantonly and maliciously destroyed a thriving countryside culture. Shame on them. History will never forgive them.