Flindt on Friday: Going hedge-spotting with Defra’s booklet

The “to do” list we put together at the beginning of May was so long that it was almost overwhelming. So much to get done before the hip operation, and, as the much-missed Time Team nearly said, we only had 16 days to do it.

It took a couple of days to stop running around in a circle (ah, that might explain the surgery) and sort out priorities. Eventually, we sorted out a top three.

At number three was the 40% of the farm that was still unsown after six very unco-operative months.

See also: Read more of Charlie Flindt’s columns

Eight tonnes of winter beans were formally informed that they would not be needed, and would have to sit and wait at the back of the barn until next autumn – or in a good second-hand grain trailer if I can find one for sensible money.

Extra spring bean seed was miraculously found, spring barley seed was boosted by another tonne, and contractors booked to help with sowing – but the days were ticking by.

Is May really a suitable time for sowing? We’ve done good spring beans in May, but spring barley? Who knows? There’s always wholecrop silage if all else fails.

The Eurovision forecast

But there were other, more important jobs to do. There was a long list of Eurovision songs to be checked and a prediction to be made.

Luckily, 10 seconds spent watching the Israeli entry was enough to convince me that I needn’t waste time watching any others.

I made my forecast very publicly in the Jolly Flowerpots to anyone who would listen, including the Cookham Turkey Magnet (at least, I think that’s what they call him; sounds a bit like an odd version of Babe Magnet, but there we go), who had joined me and neighbour Robert for what he’d hoped would be an evening of fine beer and intellectual conversation. Well, he got one right.

Finally, there was the Single Farm Payment online form to fill in. This, of course, is the big one, and it takes a curious change of mindset to do properly.

What’s a hedge?

You have to say a strict mental farewell to the world of grease guns, drill calibration and lamb castrations (ie, what out forefathers would recognise as “farming”) and channel your energies into what an IT consultant/Defra wonk thinks “farming” is.

Thank goodness for the crucial booklet called How to check and change your hedge information, which included a full page entitled “What is the definition of a hedge?” We never knew. I could sense the farmhouse ghosts shaking their heads in bewilderment as I read that page.

A brief visit to the RPA’s record of my farm showed that most of the hedges, despite all their formal definitions, weren’t mapped.

Did I want to go through hours of sketching and sending in a pile of RLE1 forms? No. I managed to source my Ecological Focus Area thanks to the corners and edges that were now available after we gave up trying to get into the Keystone Cops Countryside Stewardship, topped up with some very popular wild bird strips, with just a soupcon of buffer strip to make up the numbers.

Phew. The form was electronically submitted without an RLE1. Then the sun blazed majestically, and 300 acres of crops were in and rolled in a week (don’t mock – for us, that’s a lot).

A heavy night of rain (the first welcome rain in 10 months) meant the barley was through in five days – a good start.

And, of course, Israel won Eurovision. I hope the Turkey Magnet took my tip  and put a bob or two on them. He can buy the fine beer next time. 

Charlie Flindt is a tenant of the National Trust, farming 380ha in Hampshire with his wife, Hazel.