Here’s a political picture: four man-made layers — you just know it’s wrong.
In contrast, the farmland we tend here in Wales is designated by the Government as 100% habitat (which is probably true of most places if you know what you are looking at) — but it’s official, half our land is ‘oak and wild hyacinth’ — bluebell woods to you — ancient woodland that was felled after the war for pit-props for the economic recovery and grazed until 2006 when the Forestry Commission, with unusual wisdom, offered us a modest grant to replant and, more importantly, to exclude grazing for 15 years.
So for the last 8 years this land, nestling under the old hill fort has been spared the ravages of the hardy native sheep that we love but whose mission is deforestation. I never understand why folk get so enthusiastic about protecting the bleak moorlands of this area that are scoured bare by unnatural numbers of hungry sheep when, if left to its own devices this land would be broad-leafed woodland bursting with wild flowers, song birds and little furry creatures!
So here we are — our saplings, oak, hazel,rowan, aspen, alder, wild cherry and holly wrestle with self-sown birch and willow and the creeping shoots of blackthorn and hawthorn which insinuate themselves from the old hedgerows. They were planted naturalistically (not in rows), not to confuse the tree counters from the ministry, that was inadvertent (a happy accident) but to give them a head start and to make the wild-life feel at home. In the wet gulleys the alders are already 5 meters high in places. I don’t like to embarrass them but they are sexually mature with lots of little cones, the rowan have berries and this year for the first time there are wild cherries! Some of the oaks are taller than me (I sound like a parent) and in the spring and early summer the foliage on the new growth is bright red.
Our new old wood is very young and we will need to maintain the glades and open areas — it would be nice to re-introduce a charcoal burner or an oak tanner, sadly extinct, to maintain the woodland clearings where the meadow-sweet can grow as it does now in the floor of our little dingle.
The land looks wild but cut back the undergrowth a little and you will find signs of quite sophisticated engineering from long ago, built by hand with shovel and river-stone.
And beware invaders when you clear ground; where we dug out a hidden culvert in the spring to unblock it and release the pond that had squatted along our track, we now have a bank of rose bay willow herb.
What amazes us is the variety of plants and animals that show themselves as the year progresses; every week the micro-landscape changes as the colours and shapes reflect the constantly changing balance within the ecosystem. As taller plants like the ferns, the miriad tall grasses, the foxgloves, meadowsweet and the parsleys grow up and take the light, the undergrowth of smaller plants, the mosses, shamrocks, wood anemones and bluebells, having flowered while they can are obscurred and you have to wade, shoulder deep in a tangled profusion of humming, scented, sometime prickling, jungle. The lushness and fertility of it all just knocks your socks off!
The other half of our land is ‘severely disadvantaged’ and ‘unimproved’ pasture (what a cheek!) that we work hard to maintain without recourse to chemicals or artificial fertilizers — we hack down the bracken and dig out the gorse and cut the thistles just before they seed and we harrow the mole hills and we mend the fences and the sheep do the rest!