7 April 2000

Conservation glitches in need of speedy solution

As fieldwork hots up on

farmers weeklys northern

barometer farm, wildlife

wishes are still very much

on the agenda.

Andrew Blake reports

STRAIGHTFORWARD ministry guidelines on hedge definition are needed fast after confusion over field boundary rules this spring, says Matthew Hanson.

Considerable estate enhancement, including hedge planting and woodland regeneration, has been undertaken over-winter at Rock Farms, near Alnwick, Northumberland.

News that Britains hedge practice may continue for 2000 at least, is welcome, says owner Jay Bosenquet. "It is a great relief because the timetable for change was quite ridiculous." But any future modification needs spelling out soon, he believes.

"Now we know change is coming we want to know how to address it," says Mr Hanson. "Some of the terminology being used by MAFF is a bit odd. We are going to need some simple standards."

Typical of unanswered questions is whether a wire fence buried in an impenetrable mass or rough vegetation constitutes a hedge, he says. "We need to know by May to be able to decide what we are going to do next autumn."

Under a Countryside Stewardship scheme approved last October 17km (10.5 miles) of 2m (6.5ft) and 3.5km (2.2 miles) of 6m (19.6ft) herbage buffer strips are now planned. They are part plans to boost the amenity value of the property and make full use of the farms four-strong workforce. Other activities include planting 2km (1.2 miles) of new hedges and rejuvenating 1.6ha (4 acres) of woodland flattened by a Boxing Day gale in 1998.

The whole exercise builds on 20ha (50 acres) of new small woods, established in 1996 under the Farm Woodland Premium scheme. The idea is to link them all up with wildlife corridors.

"We also have three ponds planned, two for this year," says Mr Hanson. "The 6m strips are going in beside the woods and watercourses, so we can ignore LERAPS."

But choosing the correct sowing mixture has not been straightforward. The original MAFF grass mix also included 5% yarrow.

"This would have been extremely expensive had our consultant, Harry Baker-Cresswell, not managed to get us a derogation including a much cheaper mix of birdsfoot trefoil and chicory.

"It is interesting that they also considered false oat grass as an erect grass species. In my book that is onion couch, and nobody in their right mind would want to introduce that to the farm, although we do already have some in the verges."

The newly planted hedges are 60% hawthorn, 20% wild privet and 10% each of field maple and wild crab apple. Transparent tube protection should ensure speedy growth and make weed control easier. And planting the minor species in groups should avoid the hawthorn swamping them.

Pulses racing

An unusually dry, warm spring at Rock has seen Espace peas sown 75mm (3in) deep on Mar 9 romping away. Victor beans sown slightly earlier were also breaking through by the middle of last week.

Pre-emergence Opogard (terbuthylazine + terbutryn) at 2 litres/ha should buy time to permit another broad-leaved pea treatment if needed and a separate graminicide for wild oats and expected brome. The risk of de-waxing damage is too great to apply them together, says Mr Hanson.

"Fortunately the rain, which might have capped the fine surface, held off until the peas were through."

Despite achieving an excellent seed-bed in one pass he shuns simazine. "I can never get it to work in the spring."

Organic harrowing harvests N

An initial twin pass with an Einbock comb harrow on organic Hereward wheat has pulled out a fair amount of chickweed, fumitory and speedwell. More significantly it seems to have helped release plenty of soil mineral N, says Mr Hanson. "It has greened up very well." Another two passes at right angles with the weeder will probably be tried when the surface dries. The aim is to drag out some more competitors and those which re-established after recent rain.