Friday, 3 August 2007

Hay time

There was a time when farmers would pay to gather hay from nature reserves like ours. Then came foot-and-mouth disease and we lost most of our stock farmers in this region. Many retired (the average farmer is 68 years old), some went over to arable, and some emigrated. The result is that we have less livestock in Huntingdonshire than ever before and so there is almost no demand for hay. In recent years we have paid farmers to cut our hay and take it away, sometimes to be dumped. This year we decided to make our own hay so that we could cut it when it suited us. Volunteer Davy Jones has completely stripped down and rebuilt an old bailer and we were anxious to see it in action. It made its first bail on August 1st, and 600 more in the next two days.

Because of the wet summer, a lot of hay has been spoiled and the fields have been too wet to get a tractor on, so there is suddenly a demand for hay. We have been able to sell most of our hay and give some to Wood Green.

Why do we make hay? The meadow is a great example of what can be achieved by using traditional practices like hay making to remove nutrients and spread the seeds of wildflowers around the field, creating a herb-rich sward.