June and July are a profusion of colour for the wildflowers. Things have been a bit slow this year compared to last. The weather was generally cool and damp through March and April but became sunny and very dry through late May and early June.
Swallows and House Martins are back on the farm and nesting all over the place. This month we had our annual farm bird count which dates back to the 1990s. We haven't totted up the figures yet, but we’re hopeful that our longer grazing pastures, increased use of herbal leys, and improved conservation on the farm will be of benefit to flying insects and Swallows, Swifts, and House Martins. It does give us some satisfaction watching them swoop across the meadows.
The orchids in the pasture behind the pond have come out and are a blaze of colour. To diversify the grass sward we sowed some clover, bird's foot trefoil, and yellow rattle by the Farmhouse a couple of years ago. These plants give more diversity of pollen and nectar to both our bees and other flying insects.
We have a mixture of Common Spotted orchid (generally pale pink with purple freckles and blotchy leaves - hence “spotted”) and Northern Marsh orchids, which are darker maroon and purple but without spotty leaves. Many of our orchids are a hybrid of both these varieties and are commonly found in wetland areas. They are much less common than they once were due to agricultural intensification, cultivation, fertilisers, and sprays.
Did you know orchids are reliant on mycorrhizal fungi to provide them with nutrients and these fungi only thrive in undisturbed soil? In some ways, orchids represent some of our farming objectives in that we try to minimise soil disturbance where we can, encourage soil fungi to help with the supply of nutrients, and increase biodiversity.
One of the primary benefits of the orchid is its role in enhancing biodiversity. As a native wildflower, it provides important habitat and food sources for a wide range of wildlife including bees, butterflies, and other pollinators. By attracting and supporting these beneficial insects, the orchid plays a crucial role in maintaining a healthy and balanced ecosystem.
The orchid also serves as an indicator species for wetland habitats. Its presence indicates the ecological health of the wetland area, as it requires specific moisture conditions to thrive. By monitoring the presence and abundance of orchids, farmers and land managers can assess the quality of their wetland habitats and take appropriate conservation measures.
Conserving and promoting the Marsh orchid also demonstrates a commitment to nature conservation and sustainable land management practices. It helps preserve the native flora and fauna, protects valuable wetland habitats, and contributes to the overall biodiversity and environmental balance of the farm.
We are very proud to host the orchid on our farm, particularly in wetland areas. Its role in enhancing biodiversity, serving as an indicator species, contributing to the aesthetic appeal, and promoting sustainable land management practices make it a beneficial addition to our agricultural system. By conserving and supporting the orchid, we are contributing to wildlife conservation efforts, maintaining healthy ecosystems, and creating a visually appealing and sustainable farm environment.
White and Red Clover
White clover (Trifolium repens) and Red clover (Trifolium pratense) are versatile and beneficial plants commonly found in your garden or the countryside.
One of the primary benefits of clover is its ability to fix atmospheric nitrogen – it can convert it into a usable form for plants. This natural source of nitrogen reduces the dependence on synthetic versions, promoting sustainable farming practices, and improving soil health.
Clover plays a significant role in enhancing soil fertility. Its deep taproot system helps improve soil structure, aeration, and water infiltration. The plant's extensive root network contributes to erosion control and weed suppression. Clover's presence in crop rotations can enhance soil health by increasing organic matter content and providing natural weed control benefits.
Clover is also renowned for its production of high-quality forage. It boasts rich protein, vitamins, and minerals, making it an excellent feed option for livestock. It supports healthy growth in animals and contributes to the overall herd well-being. Furthermore, clover exhibits good palatability and digestibility, making it a valuable component in pasture mixtures for grazing animals.
Clover is also recognized for its ability to attract beneficial insects, including pollinators. White is very popular with honeybees, while Red attracts many different types of flying insects like bumblebees and butterflies. The plant's vibrant flowers serve as a valuable nectar and pollen source, supporting the overall biodiversity, ecosystem, and health on the farm.
As you can see, White and Red clover are highly useful plants. Their nitrogen-fixing capabilities, high-quality forage, soil fertility enhancement, and promotion of biodiversity make them beneficial additions to our agricultural systems. By incorporating clover into our farming practice, we can reduce input costs, improve livestock nutrition, enhance soil health, and support the overall sustainability of our operations.
From a folklore perspective, clover is sometimes associated with qualities like good fortune, abundance, and vibrant energy. This is similar to the symbolism for the well-known three-leafed clover, which is thought to bring good luck.
Birdsfoot trefoil (Lotus corniculatus) - aka “eggs and bacon”, due to the red and yellow colouration of its flowers - is a perennial legume that thrives in the UK. It is highly regarded for its numerous benefits to farms and agricultural land.
It excels in fields due to its nitrogen-fixing ability, reducing the need for synthetic fertilisers and thereby promoting sustainable and environmentally friendly farming practices.
It also offers high-quality forage, rich in protein and nutrients, supporting livestock growth and milk production. The plant's high nutrient content supports healthy animal growth, contributing to overall herd health.
Its adaptability to different soil types makes it resilient to soils that are less fertile or have a low pH. A deep root system enables it to access water and nutrients from deeper soil layers, making it resilient during periods of drought.
For us, birdsfoot trefoil is a highly beneficial species. Its nitrogen-fixing capabilities, nutritious forage, and adaptability to various soil types make it an excellent choice in promoting our sustainable farming practices, improving livestock nutrition and enhancing the overall productivity of our farm.
In folklore, birdsfoot trefoil was often associated with evil – a legacy stemming from its black, claw-like seed pods, which were compared to the Devil’s claws, or to crow’s feet.
Yellow rattle (Rhinanthus minor) is a valuable plant commonly found on farms in the U.K. It is highly regarded for its numerous advantages and contributions to agricultural systems.
A parasitic plant, yellow rattle feeds off the nutrients accumulated by grass species, and it tends to have a 'boom and bust' lifecycle.
It attaches itself to the roots of grasses and reduces their growth by extracting nutrients and water. It will spread and grow until it exhausts the grass, at which point it cannot sustain itself and so dies back, allowing the grass to recover and the cycle can start over again. Some conservationists like it because by suppressing grass, it allows other broadleaf species to take hold in the sward. This helps us to naturally control the dominance of grasses in meadows and pastures, allowing for the establishment and growth of a diverse range of plant species.
Yellow rattle plays a crucial role in enhancing biodiversity on the farm. By suppressing grasses, it creates gaps and opportunities for other plant species to thrive. This promotes the establishment of wildflowers and native plants, which are important for supporting pollinators including bees, butterflies, and other beneficial insects. The presence of yellow rattle in grasslands can lead to the development of species-rich habitats, improving overall ecosystem health and resilience.
Additionally, yellow rattle can contribute to improved forage quality. While it has a lower forage value compared to grasses, its presence in moderate quantities can provide additional diversity to grazing animals' diets. It is often incorporated into diverse pasture mixtures to enhance nutritional variety and encourage livestock to graze a wider range of plant species.
Another benefit of yellow rattle is its ability to act as an indicator species. Its presence in grasslands can point to low soil fertility, which is often desirable in traditional hay meadows or wildlife-rich areas. Monitoring the presence and abundance of yellow rattle can help farmers and land managers assess the ecological health and diversity of their fields.
On our farm, yellow rattle’s ability to suppress grass growth, enhance biodiversity, and act as an indicator species make it beneficial for creating species-rich habitats, supporting pollinators and promoting sustainable farming practices. By incorporating yellow rattle into our grasslands, we can improve the overall ecological balance of the farm, contribute to wildlife conservation efforts, and enhance the beauty and diversity of the landscape.