Wight Conservation - Monthly Diary


Highlanders grazing in cloud

October was a month of activity and contrast. Activity because so much was going on about the farm and contrast in the weather, - a mix of lovely days clear and sunny, heavy deluges and dull, dreary autumn weather.

There never seems to be a quiet month on a livestock farm. In addition to normal husbandry, there were no fewer than 12 special activities. Credit goes to the farm staff for coping so cheerfully.

The month’s highlight was the visit to the Highland Cattle Show and Sale at Oban. Barry, his girlfriend Sian Dyer, and I flew up to Glasgow on the Friday. We first drove to see the Craigowmill Fold near Kinross. Our hosts were Ken and Eva Brown. Ken is the current President of the Highland Cattle Society.

It was not just a visit. It was an experience. The Browns’ farm is about 1700 acres on which they have 160 breeding stock, followers and 6 bulls. They were in superb condition and very much of a type. They showed themselves beautifully both on the hills and in the lowlands. Nothing was too much trouble for the Browns and Eva provided a delicious Scottish broth lunch in their magnificent house, Milnarthort.

In February they purchased the Oban Champion Bull, Russell of Balure, which is very closely related to several of our stock. Our two year old Bull, Iasgar of Mottistone, is a 75% brother in blood.

Later in the afternoon we drove up to visit Angus McKay at the Bridge of Earn. Angus is a finisher par excellence of Highland cattle, - this year he will finish no less than 280 beasts. He has it down to a fine art and he is always willing to share his knowledge. Most of the steers are taken by his farm shop, which is set just off a main road and overlooks a paddock in which his cattle graze, - excellent marketing.

On the Saturday we drove to Oban but took a detour so that Barry and Sian could see the lovely Scottish countryside on their first visit. Glen Coe looked at its best.

Oban has two Highland Cattle Shows a year, in February and October. The October show specialises more in heifers. In all 153 animals were catalogued. The Show, followed by a Sale, is a great cultural, social and commercial occasion in the Highland Cattle Society world. Andy Kirkpatrick, who bred our champion bull, Ruairdh of Glengarnock, was the sole judge and his task was non stop through fifteen separate classes. A great feat of stamina and concentration.

That evening, the Society chartered the ferry “Isle of Mull” for a dinner dance. There were over 300 guests. The Scots ladies were turned out as beautifully as the heifers had been earlier in the day. Many of the men were resplendent in their kilts. It made a fine sight. We were to be treated with a view of the waterside castles all lit up in our honour. It was raining! We saw nothing!

 The sale on Monday was considered good trade. We made two purchases. The first was the Supreme Champion Female, the three year old Kerrie 2nd of Earn (in calf to Oscar of Earn, 2004’s Royal Highland Show champion), and Mollie of Busby, a two year old heifer which was first in her class and overall reserve for her age group. Both will be good additions to our stock. Our constant aim is to improve the standard and quality of our fold and our purchases this year will make a great contribution. Two Female Champions, two class winners, and three other prize winners.

Charlie Maclean (L) and 
Barry Isaacson

 The month’s second highlight was Charlie Maclean’s visit to see our cattle. Charlie is an outstanding showman of Charolais cattle but previously he was equally successful with Highlanders. Over the last 30 months, we have purchased four heifers at Oban from his sister, Mary, including our first purchase – Lucy of Balure. Lucy 
was Champion Female, in February 2003. 

Charlie is a Fieldsman for the Society and his visits are of great help to us. He has a keen critical eye and nothing escapes his notice. He is always encouraging and gave good advice on preparation of our young bulls for showing and getting them halter trained.

 The other cattle activities in the month included separate farm visits by Colin and Jenny Boswell of Merstone and Tony Coward of Gatcombe, moving two bulls, improvements to the bulls’ barn known as the “Mootel”, a vet to a lame heifer and to trim a bull’s feet, taking the cattle crush to Colin and Jenny and helping with their Highlanders, the arrival of the two Oban purchases at Middle Barn - "our reception centre", moving them to join the fold on St Martin’s Down, transporting 19 heifers 17 miles from West Wight to Middle Barn, assessing them and, two days’ later, transporting them to Wroxall Down, and countless desk hours upgrading our cattle pedigrees.

 At half term we hosted the Isle of Wight Foot Beagles children’s meet. It was a wonderful and happy day. There were about 30 children who were treated both

Isle of Wight Foot Beagles
Children's Meet

 before and after hunting to suitable fare of sweets, soft drinks, chocolate cakes and biscuits! It was a delight to see them enjoying themselves in the countryside and watching hounds work.

Since Parliament abolished hunting, the beagles now either rabbit or trail hunt. This time they were rabbit hunting. They caught eight rabbits which made a useful day’s contribution to our control problems.

 What has the Government done, and what was the logic behind its thinking? Rabbit hunting, which is legal, is no more humane than hare hunting, which is illegal. Both are far more humane than shooting, which is not only legal but encouraged by Labour. The MP’s were malicious, ignorant and contemptible. What moral right have they to lord their prejudices over us, who are equally concerned about animal welfare but have the advantage of being practically involved with it in the countryside. 

The Isle of Wight Foxhounds made a brief informal visit with the sole purpose of perfecting and training their hounds to trail hunting techniques. Like the hare, the fox is now suffering a less humane existence and almost open warfare has been declared upon it. To all who see it, it is abundantly clear that a death from hounds is generally far more humane than death by shooting. But oh no! Those bigoted politicians know better. It is no wonder that they are now held in such low esteem. 

Mottistone Common

 This year’s open space conservation programme is now almost complete. Barry King spent the month on Mottistone Common digging out the Holm oak and most rhododendrons. We are clearing 75% of the remaining scrub to encourage  regeneration of heather and keeping it for ground nesting birds such as the nightjar. 

The woodland highlight of the month was the invertebrate survey report on Chillingwood and Rowlands Wood by Adam Wright, BSc. Regular visits were made to both woods in the main period of adult insect activity between March and September. He recorded three Red Data Book species and 20 others of National Scarcity.

He made comparisons with nearby Briddlesford, owned by the People’s Trust for Endangered Species which enjoys the highest conservation status possible. It is a magnificent conservation area, nearly three times our size, which produced 2 RDB and 23 NS species compared to our 3 and 20 respectively. Heartening indeed, and a ringing endorsement of our woodland management.

 Adam concluded:

"The number of primary woodland indicator species and dead wood dependent species recorded during the current survey can leave little doubt that Chillingwood Copse and Rowlands Wood form an extremely important habitat for these insects on the Isle of Wight, and indeed they are of regional significance for a number of the scarcer species recorded. At least the 3 species of insect previously unknown from the Island have been found on the current survey, and many other species known to be highly restricted on the Isle of Wight have also been recorded. It is also especially heartening to note the presence of the bees ecuera longicornis which is extinct at the majority of its former UK inland sites, and particularly the bee sphecodes cabrioollis - a woodland species which is considered very rare throughout Europe."

 In Chillingwood, Wayne Isaacson has widened more of the main ride and completed his summer thinning adjacent to the Isle of Wight steam railway line. Then over into North Rowlands where he has started thinning 1 hectare near the main entrance. 

Bob Wright has been in hospital and Barry King filled in for him by doing the autumn ride mowing. They look good.
Keith Lea, our forestry consultant, has some good ideas about rectifying the state of the main pond in South Rowlands following our clearing earlier this year. With the rain there is some improvement but we will have to take out some of the vegetation infill which occurred during the dry weather.

Carolyn and I attended a General Meeting of the IW Farm and Country Holidays Group. It is a good active group with about 30 members, all offering farm holidays, either B&B or self-catering. We were impressed by their dedication to offering holiday makers both quality and service. 

In our own self-catering cottage, our last guests have departed. All our guests have been a pleasure to know and all were most appreciative. The letting response has been disappointing but we have learnt many lessons, mostly on the marketing. Offering Five Star accommodation is a major commitment in order to keep up the standards. No Island hotel  can offer our level of luxury which compares favourably with good London hotels. 

Dairy Barn's Garden
Cottage Garden

Dairy Barn's Garden
Cottage Garden

"There ain’t no fertilizer like the sole of the master’s boot" is a true old country saying. There is no substitute for the owner being out and about his farm. It is best done on foot. During the month I walked all our properties. I experienced fog, rain, wind and beautiful sunshine, each condition bringing its own marvels to the IW countryside. October was a beautiful month to be out and about.

Highlanders resting in clouds

Previous Months: September

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