Sunday, 29 March 2015

Hey man! I really dig that earth!

Soil is a living, breathing organism - an amazing habitat!
Soil is amazing stuff – if we allow it to be!

A really top quality arable soil is made up of, perhaps somewhat surprisingly, 25% air, 25% water, 45% minerals and around 5% organic matter, with the organic content potentially rising to around 10% when under permanent grassland and therefore not cultivated.

One single teaspoon full of healthy soil contains around 1 billion bacteria, meaning that a handful of soil has more living organisms within it than there are people living on planet Earth! 
One of the primary purposes of soil bacteria lies in its role in decomposition, which is a vital process within the ecosystem, because nutrients trapped in plant or animal tissue are broken down and made available to other organisms. This process ensures the recycling of materials within the soil and for instance, plays an integral role in the nitrogen cycle. Organisms are unable to use nitrogen in its gaseous form, however bacteria in the soil will fix nitrogen from the air so that plants can use it.

Earthworms also play an important role by eating organic matter and breaking it down into smaller pieces allowing bacteria and also fungi to feed on it and release the nutrients. Charles Darwin referred to earthworms as ‘nature’s ploughs’ because of this mixing of soil and organic matter.

Talking of fungi, it is thought that over 30% of the sugars produced by the plant are released through the root system to feed the soil biology and maintain the ecosystem around the plant. The release of sugars forms the basis of a symbiotic relationship, as these sugars in the soil enable the microbial populations to multiply around the plant roots. 

A fairly recent discovery is that Mycorrhizal fungi also produce a sticky substance known as glomalin, which has been referred to as “soil glue”. Combined with the fungal ropes, which are the strands produced by the fungi to absorb nutrients, this glue is responsible for building soil structure effectively binding minute soil particles together to create soil crumbs, which helps to prevent soil from slumping and eroding.

Now for a truly staggering statistic. The main body of most fungi is made up of fine, branching, and mainly colourless threads called hyphae. Each fungus will have vast numbers of these hyphae, all intertwining to make up a tangled web called the mycelium. In arable soils you might expect to find between 1 & 2 metres of these fungal threads in every gram of soil, which rises to a 100 metres or so in soils under permanent grassland. But wait for it, if you think that is amazing – the fungal threads in an ounce of soil taken from the forest floor can be as long as 40 miles in length!! 
There is increasing evidence that the poor condition of many soils, which lack a thriving “biology” are contributing to a build-up of locked nutrients, with only 5-10% of all inputs ever reaching the plants they were intended to support. Add to this the removal of many crop protection inputs, and world phosphorus reserves coming under strain in the coming decades, those with an eye on the strategic nature of farming are once again looking at how to harness soil biology to unlock bound macro elements, increase nutrient availability and thus reduce artificial inputs on a commercial scale.

However, we must also make sure that our soils remain where they should be – in the field.

Government research is showing that through soil erosion we are losing 0.1 - 0.3t/ha of top soil annually and it is the most fertile soil which is lost first. This equates to an annual loss in the UK of 2.2 million tonnes of soil through erosion (Parliamentary Office of Science and Technology). Oh, and by the way, it takes approximately 500 years to replace 1 inch of topsoil lost to erosion.

So, as the UN General Assembly has declared 2015 as the "International year of soils", perhaps now is the time to start looking after our soils much better than we are currently, and indeed many farmers are now focussing on just this matter with some urgency.

I think that it might help if we can all begin to think of soil as a living and breathing organism – a habitat that is as packed with biodiversity as any top notch, designated nature reserve. Then we might tend it with more care. 

One final thought - If you imagine our planet began as a single day:
Microbes appeared at 5am
Dinosaurs appeared at 10pm
... and humans appeared seconds before midnight.

Tuesday, 24 March 2015

Global warming – rubbish, it was much, much hotter in Poldark’s Cornwall!

Poldark country was hot, hot, hot! Could those be Bee-eaters flying bottom right? 
I have been watching Poldark on Sunday evenings – I know, I know – not really my choice, honest! Anyway, I have been really very entertained by the seasons that apparently took place in those long gone days. Let me explain.

Virtually every time anyone takes off along the coast for a walk or ride, (which is quite often as the scenery is so stunning!), I can definitely hear the soft, liquid “prruup, prruup" call of Bee-eaters in the background. Now, I know that a pair caused great excitement by breeding on the Isle of Wight last year, but in these days gone by they were obviously as common as Herring gulls in Cornwall! There appears to have been colony after colony nesting along the full length of the cliff tops. What an amazing sight it must have been!

In last Sunday’s episode, a young lad set off to try and poach some local Pheasants, which appeared to me a slightly strange time to be doing this activity, as the meadows were in full flower, but perhaps I'm nit-picking now. Well, to cut a long story short, he was caught and was sent hurriedly off to Truro to be tried in front of the courts. Why the rush? Well, the owner of the land where he was caught poaching wanted to get to the local hunt meet on time. Surely not, hunting in what appeared to be high summer with Bee-eaters calling all around, crumbs winters were incredibly mild.

But wait, as Poldark galloped into Truro to try to save this wayward youth from a prison sentence, what could I hear screaming away in the background, but Swifts! Nowadays, these birds arrive in late May and have left our shores again by August, but they were obviously still happily hanging around when the hunting and shooting season had got under-way in those days. Wow, Cornwall obviously used to have a positively African climate!!

Finally, I was a little disappointed to see that they cultivated Cornflowers even back then. The maid collected a fist full of those horrible “pom-pom” type Cornflowers, when surely the fields must have been full of the real deal, which are so much better on the eye. Personally, if I had been her master, I would have sent her back out to get the proper naturally grown flowers from amongst the corn.

Maybe, on reflection though, I suppose if the seasons were so array in those days, perhaps natural Cornflowers did not flower until February!

NB. Note to the BBC. If you would like to employ me on a smallish retainer, I would be most happy to advise the programme on such background matters!


Friday, 20 March 2015

Adam Henson praises the Marlborough Downs NIA for all it has achieved

Adam Henson addressing the Marlborough Downs NIA meeting
I attended the “spring celebration” meeting of the Marlborough Downs Nature Improvement Area (MDNIA) last night and a jolly good evening it was too.

I would guess there were around 200 people at the Marlborough golf club and the guest speaker was farmer and TV presenter Adam Henson of TV Countryfile fame, who gave a very up-beat talk on the future of farming in the UK. He wholeheartedly praised all the wonderful work that the farmers and supporters of the MDNIA had achieved. He is without doubt a guy whose cup is half full – never half empty!

It was good to see Richard Benyon MP at the meeting too. He was instrumental of course, whilst a minister within DEFRA, in securing funding for these NIA’s and has followed this particular group with great interest. The attendance of Andrew Sells, head of Natural England, showed I believe just how much this project has been viewed as a resounding success by government. 
Mark Upton, a local farmer also spoke on his great passion of falconry and I learnt a huge amount about the history of the sport, including how important Wiltshire was in the past as it frequently hosted royalty and foreign dignitaries, who came to fly their birds in the wide open skies of the downs.

Jemma Batten, the combined Master and Whipper-in of the NIA,  gave a sparkling talk which confirmed just how much the NIA has achieved since it was started some 3 years ago. Here are just some of the achievements.

Over 60ha of chalk grassland created or undergoing restoration, 16 new Dew ponds created, Improved public access on 47 miles of footpath and bridleway, 8.5 miles of permissive access for disabled carriage drivers established and 4,300 people attended 42 talks, 25 farm walks, 2 open farm Sundays, 24 volunteer workshops, 13 best practice workshops and 10 celebration events.

It was also highlighted last night, not for the first time I hasten to add, just what an important role the ladies had played in creating such a successful overall project. Two lady farmers – Laura Cooper and Suzie Swanton were awarded the cup for the having achieved the most this year - a very popular decision!.

Teresa Dent (GWCT CEO), closed the proceedings by telling the audience that this NIA, perhaps more than any other, had influenced Government thinking and had resulted in the idea of “Farmer Clusters” and now funding within the new Countryside Stewardship Scheme for a Facilitation fund to organise more "landscape scale" farmer groups.
For more info on this NIA - go to:  

Tuesday, 17 March 2015

Its that time of year for a bit of reflection.

At this time of year some bird species can become really aggressive and territorial, not wanting to see any other male of their kind as they firm up their territorial boundaries. This can sometimes lead them to take note of their reflection in a window, mirror, shiny car bumper or similar glossy surface. They immediately assume that it is a rival bird and will attack the image in an attempt to drive it away, pecking and scratching at the reflection.

So I was not that surprised to receive this correspondence from someone who lives in Northamptonshire and reads my blog: “I thought I would send this photo to you of a long tailed tit, who for the last few days has been tapping at my bedroom window!  It starts as soon as I open the curtains, not before.  It does it for quite a while flying off to a tree and back again in between tapping, then eventually pushes off, only to return again in the afternoon.  Very strange, what do you suppose it is doing?”

Here's looking at you - or is it me!
I suspect that it sees its image once the curtains are opened! The usual culprits that act out this behaviour are Robins, Blackbirds and Wagtails. Interestingly, I have not heard of Long-tailed-tits behaving like this before, and it is possible that this individual has found some tiny spiders or such like hiding in the corners of the window.

The reason I say this is because this particular species is peculiar in that often they will help each other raise a brood and do not appear particularly territorial. Long-tailed Tits suffer from a high loss of nests due to predators, with only around 16% of nests yielding fledged young.  In most species of birds, if a pair loses its nest, it can either nest again or give up, but quite often failed Long-tailed Tit breeders can go and help at another nest.

Research has also interestingly shown that these failed breeders specifically go to help relatives raise their young, not just any old neighbour! They bring in extra food for the chicks and allow the “proper mum” to brood her chicks for longer periods as she does not have to go out foraging for food so much.

The presence of these “helpers” had a marked effect on the survival of the chicks. A study showed that of 68 chicks in nests with helpers, 26 (38.2%) are known to have survived to the following breeding season, as opposed to only 25 out of 114 (21.9%) in nests without helpers, a significant difference.

I'm always interested to hear of your snippets of note – so do please send them through to me!

GWCT has a top farm manager in place

"Jarvo" with one of his Leicester Longwool lambs 
A good farm manager must have many talents to run a successful business. One of those abilities must surely be the capacity to maintain an enthusiasm to learn and take on new challenges. A farm has a constantly changing “shop floor” on which to ply ones trade and those who do not change with the times will eventually succumb.

If the farm happens to also be a research farm, with all the additional hassle of scientists crawling around all over the place, demanding a little bit of this here and none of that over there, then life can become increasingly difficult. Add to that scenario, 3068 visitors coming to look around the farm in one year (2014 figure) and you might begin to feel just a little sympathy for the manager of this particular farm business!

The farm in question is the GWCT’s Allerton project based at Loddington in Leicestershire and the farm manager requiring our collective sympathy is one Phil “Jarvo” Jarvis. But before you feel too much compassion, this guy seems to positively revel in the frenetic world of farming a research based enterprise and indeed, seems to always be adding something new to his daily agenda!

Phil has recently taken on the role of county chairman for the National Farmers Union (NFU) in Leicestershire, Northamptonshire and Rutland. Meanwhile, it seemed only the other day that he completed an MSc in the management of field headlands, done in his “spare” time.

He has also started up a small flock of Leicester Longwool sheep, a rare breed with only around 450 breeding ewes left, which of course appear to be absolutely thriving under his care. On my latest visit to the farm, I now find that, with the help of some others, he has turned his hand to hedge laying – and a very fine job was made too!

Perhaps the most remarkable trait of this “farm manager extraordinaire” however, is that he always appears to be so jovial – even when he had an invite to the Cheltenham Gold cup – but could not go as he had to show a group around the farm. He told me “ Well, looking on the bright side, just think how much money I have saved in lost bets, plus the day after will start hang-over free, which would certainly not have been the case had I gone”!!

In this world of the “computer says no” it is so refreshing to follow Jarvo’s career – but hey, slow down a bit will you – you’re making the rest of us feel rather inadequate!

Phil talking about his newly laid hedge to one of many visitor groups 
I seem to recall that most of my friends back in the 70s had a haircut similar to this Leicester Longwool!

A rare breed Leicester Longwool Ewe and Lamb

Friday, 13 March 2015

Updating CFE advisers at Loddington

Training the trainers - a good practical way of learning - out on the farm

Yesterday I spent the day at the GWCT farm at Loddington in Leicestershire discussing pollinators and in particular the role that hedges and field boundaries play in helping to deliver the habitat requirements for this multitude of insects, namely pollen & nectar, breeding sites and over-wintering quarters.

Jim Egan, who heads up GWCT Training & Development and is based at the farm, organised a very instructive day for the Campaign for the Farmed Environment (CFE) advisers, of which I am one.
We had an up-date from Natural England’s Mike Green on the new Stewardship scheme with particular reference to the new pollinator package, although there are still a few “tweaks” to be made!

This was followed by talks from two experienced hedgerow managers, Rob Wolton and Nigel Adams both representing Hedgelink (details below), who gave interesting presentations on the practical ways of managing hedges and the wildlife that depends on them.

Then it was out onto the farm to discuss various management regimes for the different types of hedges. The farm manager Phil Jarvis was on hand to give his perspective on hedges – always a good leveller to have an experienced guy like this around to stop the conversation getting too fanciful!

We looked at and debated such topics as coppicing, laying and trimming programmes and the best machinery and tools for the job. The pros and cons of hedge shape, height, width, choice of species and if gaps in hedges are good or bad – were all chatted about! CFE advisers are an experienced lot, so the discussion was lively and robust, as you would expect from people genuinely interested in the subject.

These days are important if CFE advisers are to go onto farms and hold events to bring farmers across the country up to date. They can now do this knowing that they have the latest details and practical methods to get the job done correctly and more importantly farmers can rest assured that they are getting the best advice.

Unmanaged hedge on right, coppiced in the middle and laid on the left - great to study it all in one spot! 
For more info on CFE go to:    
For more info on hedge management go to:

Sunday, 8 March 2015

What future does the countryside have without knowledgeable children?

Time spent with children, imparting knowledge and enthusing them is so important 
I was very lucky to have had a wonderfully “free” childhood, growing up in rural south west Worcestershire. During the holidays I would say cheerio to my mum and cycle off, usually armed with rod or gun under my arm and always binoculars around my neck. She usually had absolutely no idea where I was off to and of course mobile phones were unheard of, but she knew I would return when my tummy started to rumble!

I knew a lot of local characters, who almost without exception would chat to me and pass on their knowledge. There was the local Policeman, Sergeant Crump, who was a fanatical coarse fisherman and Chairman of the local fishing club. I would stand next to him as he directed traffic in the middle of the crossroads in the centre of Upton-upon-Severn, and talk “fishing”. He was always keen to hear what I had caught and would impart wonderful snippets of wisdom to me that had been gained from years of sitting quietly on the banks of the river Severn and its tributaries.

There was local shoot keeper “Laddy” Bishop (who also had numerous other jobs, some of which Sergeant Crump always showed a keen interest in!!) Laddy only had one eye (lost due to an incident with a firework) and drove his old wagon at speed along the narrow lanes, quite often leaving me wondering if he had actually seen me at all on my bicycle, as he shot past in a cloud of dust! Laddy taught me how to set tunnel traps and showed me the best place to set up a pigeon hide. He always had time to chat.

Then there was the Ledbury hunt staff. I have mentioned Nimrod Champion the Master, before on this blog. He was a bit of a hero of mine. But it was perhaps the terrier men and the guys who blocked up the Fox earths on the morning of the hunt, who taught me most about the ways of “Charlie”. Once again, I was always welcome to join them, as long as I was prepared to do my bit too and not just talk!

There was Fred Hawker – the local haulage man – Horses, Cattle and Sheep – you name it – he carried it. I would sit with Fred in the farm kitchen belong to the Giles family (honestly – they were the “farmer Giles” family and I was great mates with the two sons) and we would talk about every aspect of the countryside. Fred knew about everything and everybody for miles around – and if he didn't, I'm quite sure he made it up! I learnt a lot from Fred as he sat at that kitchen table (he always seemed to be there whenever I went round!), fag firmly attached to his lip, only removing it to partake of a good raucous laugh!

I was also incredibly fortunate that my parents were great friends with the Bursar of Malvern College, who also just happened to be a professional fly-fishing instructor. He taught me to fly-fish (not very well I'm afraid to report!), but perhaps more importantly, he taught me the ways of the fast flowing rivers such as the Wye, Monnow and its tributary the Eskley. He pointed out where the Dipper’s nest was, hidden away in ivy on the bridge and painstakingly showed me all the different fly that hatched and flew for such a brief period of time.

He also introduced me to the first chalk stream I had ever seen – the Colne in Wiltshire, and educated me about the abundant life that lived in its waters. I remember distinctly, that it was on this beautiful stream during a hot, humid, thundery afternoon (all the fish had stopped rising) that the “Colonel”, the name I always called him by, taught me how to make a trap out of a plastic bottle to catch Stickleback and other assorted creatures from the shallows. He always, always, had time to impart some new revelation, all of which I consumed voraciously.

I recently wrote about Sticklebacks and how to build such a trap in my “Species of the month” (See the tab on the top right of this page) and of course thought of the Colonel as I tapped away on the Laptop. These short pieces also go into my local “Church & Village” magazine and seem to be appreciated by the parishes.

So, I was rather saddened when the editor of the parish magazine E-mailed me to say that a rather irate, elderly man had rung her up to complain about the “Stickleback article”. The main point he made was “that rivers were private, and anglers paid thousands to fish in them and children should not be encouraged to go messing about in them”. She gave him a way of contacting me directly, but he has not done so.

At no point did I suggest breaking the trespass regulations and he does not seem to have given a moment’s thought to the fact that the river Itchen (The local river, which is indeed an expensive river on which to fish) rises just outside the village, and then flows through middle of the village as a small stream, well before it gets to a size suitable for the “paid for fishing beats”, thereby giving local children a perfect opportunity to explore the delights of such a river, without causing any disruption.

But also, where is the generosity of heart shown so clearly to me in my childhood by Laddy, Fred, Sergeant Crump and the Colonel, along with many, many, other country folk who took the time to inspire and teach me the ways of the countryside?

As William Blake wrote “In seed time learn, in harvest teach, in winter enjoy”.

A moment experienced as a child can spark a lifetime's interest



Saturday, 7 March 2015

Don't poo-poo it - Dung beetles are vital!

OK, OK, I've heard that fact too - I'm full of "bullshit"
Did you know that a cow out grazing grass in a field, just as it should be doing, produces roughly its own weight in dung in only 17 days! (A sheep takes about 25 days to do the same thing!). If nothing was around to breakdown these cow pats, then just 12 cows would completely cover a hectare (2 ½ acres) of field with pats in a year, leaving no green grass showing! To put it bluntly, we would be up to our necks in muck in no time at all!

However, luckily for us – step up the Dung beetle!

The UK has more than 40 native species of Dung beetle which tunnel, feed and breed within dung and in doing so help to bury it below the ground, playing an essential role in its breakdown and decomposition.

Dr. Sarah Beynon, a senior research associate of the University of Oxford is studying these beetles, to investigate how closely related each species is and if the roles they perform differ between them. “The results will help us understand more about the genetic diversity of our dung beetles and, ultimately, allow us to design and deliver dung beetle packages for farm use, suited to particular locations and livestock management regimes" she says.

Why the sudden interest? Well, Sarah goes on to warn that Dung beetle populations “appear to have decreased dramatically” and she feels that some wormers and parasiticides, which are often administered to cattle, can be toxic to them.

Most stock farmers follow the policy of “as much as needed, as little as possible”, which is great, but Sarah reminds farmers to ask their Vet about the impact that different treatments have on Dung beetles, as products vary widely.

Of course this advice makes huge sense as a good population of Dung beetles will help to increase soil fertility, improve soil aeration, reduce compaction and in the long run add to grassland production. These beetles are also an important part of the food chain with Bats, Starling and in some places, the Chough relying on them as a plentiful food source. 

Sarah would also love it if we all got involved with her project. “We are looking for volunteers to collect a small number of beetles from the dung of cattle, sheep, horse, goat and alpaca etc and send them to us".

Details about how to take part are available at:

There is also more information on Dung beetles on the website:   

Tuesday, 3 March 2015

The MorFish conference - not only about fish!

The MorFish conference - not all about fish - but rugby too!!
I attended the first day of the two day “MorFish conference” in Wareham, Dorset today (unfortunately I can’t make tomorrow). MorFish is a collaborative research project between the Game & Wildlife Conservation Trust (GWCT) and the Institut National de la Recherche Agronomiquue – a French government funded research agency.

The project aims to better understand the reasons for the decline in numbers of Atlantic Salmon (A 70% decline in the last 30 years) returning to our rivers and to enable the better monitoring of their populations on the river Frome in Dorset and the Scorff and Oir in Brittany.

There was a lot of interesting information, but one or two things jumped out at me. For instance, it is estimated that there is an obstruction which can influence fish migration every 13km of river/stream in England and Wales. What are we thinking of? (Or just not thinking as the case might be).

There are between two and three thousand scales collected from individual fish each year and a total of around 50,000 are now held in laboratories. Many things can be deduced from studying these scales over time – such as the increasing amount of Nitrogen being held in these scales – which can slow the growth of fish – maybe a direct result of nitrates entering water courses from Agricultural land.

It was not all deep and meaningful research though - Dylan Roberts, head of GWCT fisheries research and as the name suggests, a very proud “Welshman”, got a big laugh as he took the opportunity to put up a slide of the Welsh rugby team celebrating a win over the French! This was however somewhat eclipsed when a couple of talks later, Dr Jean Marc Roussel finished his talk with a photo of the French celebrating a win over the Welsh!

 Wonderful to see that “Entente Cordiale” is alive and well – what a great project this is!

I have so obviously not managed to impart much of what went on today – but information from the conference will be put up on the MorFish website shortly.


Monday, 2 March 2015

We are being told that we need to do more for pollinators! Come and find out why, where and how!

Bumble bees compete for pollen and nectar 
The Government has put “pollinators” high up on their agenda for farm delivery, so the Campaign for the Farmed Environment (CFE) will be running a number of events on this subject across England during the year. The South East CFE group have put together a series of farm “Walks & Talks” to cover this topic. The focus will be on exactly what is required by our insects, how pollination helps all wildlife, whilst also aiding crop yields and therefore improving farm output.

I will be leading these events, covering everything from “what are the pollinators exactly” through to “practical advice on what pollinators actually need to thrive and how we might help you to integrate this into your farm business”. We will be studying Greening opportunities and also looking at the new Countryside Stewardship Scheme, which has pollinators firmly in its sights. As usual with any event I run, it will be of an informal nature, with plenty of opportunities to ask questions and discuss issues. 
So, you are invited to attend a FREE event at one of the following locations:

Monday 23rd March, Caswell Farm, Brize Norton, Carterton, Oxon, OX18 3NJ
Tuesday 24th March, Wotton Village Hall, Wotton, Dorking, Surrey, RH5 6QQ
Wednesday 25th March, Brook Place, Ide Hill, Sevenoaks, Kent, TN14 6BL
Thursday 26th March, Holbeam Wood, Wallcrouch, Wadhurst, E. Sussex, TN5 7JS
Friday 27th March, East Tisted Village Hall, East Tisted, Alton, Hants, GU34 3QW

All events will start at 12.15 with a light lunch and indoor talk, followed by a
farm walk of 1.5 – 2 hours, finishing at 4pm. Directions and a detailed agenda
will be forwarded once a place has been booked.

BASIS & NRoSO points available.

Whilst these are FREE events, booking is ESSENTIAL as places are limited.
Please contact: or Helen Theobald on 07816 648112

I look forward to seeing you at one of these meetings if you can come along. 

Sunday, 1 March 2015

Boxing Hares and choirs of birds - spring is here!

Spring is in the air and the Hares are boxing! 
Spring seems to be here – as long as you can get out of the keen wind that is!

This weekend I have watched Hares boxing, heard both Woodlark and Skylark in full song, and seen big, buzzing queen Bumble bees crashing about, along with Honey bees and hoverflies nectaring on a stunning pink flowering Daphne bush called “jacqueline postill” – also sometimes called the Nepalese paper plant. 

I sound very knowledgeable about garden plants don’t I – but in truth I was lucky enough to bump into the gardener while I was watching all this buzzing activity and smelling the delicious sweet scent of this small shrub. He told me the name and also said that it has been in flower for a while – I'm going to buy a couple! 

No Butterflies yet, but I know a number of people have seen Brimstone this weekend and it was grand to see mats of yellow Celandine and purple blue violets in flower.

The other lovely spectacle I came across was a large flock of Pied wagtails feeding in amongst a flock of sheep that were finishing off a field of Stubble turnips. I estimated that there were between 80 and a 100 of these Molly dishwashers – a lovely country name for Pied wagtails – catching small insects and sometimes hopping onto the sheep themselves! There were also a few Skylark and Meadow pipit mixed in with them, just for good measure.

Also, first thing this morning the Fieldfare and Redwing choir gave a wonderful annual rendition. At this time of year, these members of the thrush family which over-winter with us, start to think about returning to their breeding grounds in Scandinavia and Russia. They gather together in large flocks, perching in amongst the top branches of some tall tree and start to practise their songs, fine tuning them so they are on good form when they get back! Often Starlings join them too, resulting in a bubbling, chattering mass of song drifting across the landscape. I stood for some time, listening to this delightful spring chorus, before the dark shape of a Buzzard glided in and terminated proceeding!   

What an exciting time of year this is!    

Some of the sheep finishing off their winter rations of stubble turnip 

Little Molly Dishwasher - these wagtails seek out farm animals at this time of year, as flies can often be found around them