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Looking After Manor Farm

by Keith Milmer – 22nd August 2023
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If, like me, the nearest you get to understanding the challenges of managing a farm is through listening to "The Archers" on Radio 4 (!) then read on ...

Your editor recently had a delightful chat with Carolyn Hollick and Lizzie Banister owners, with their sister Naomi, of Manor Farm since the death of their father, Tom Bucknell, in December 2021. Tom purchased Manor Farm in 1956.

The farm comprises 400 acres to the South and West of the parish church, an area that includes Ponny. Many local people will have walked the permissive field paths across Manor Farm land, especially during the Covid lockdowns when an additional access path was provided by the family to give walkers much more space to maintain social distancing while taking exercise – a gesture that was very much appreciated by the local community.

Carolyn and Lizzie manage the farm themselves, and are very keen to follow the principles of Regenerative Farming, to encourage and enrich local biodiversity.

Having grown wheat for over 60 years they are now part of the Countryside Stewardship Scheme. So they are now growing flower-enhanced grasses which also encourage the growth of wild flowers.

Included in the mix are Sainfoin, Vetch, Yarrow, Wild Carrot, Plantain and Chicory. Plus some Fescues which are short-growing grasses that offer less competition for the wild flowers. After a period of time, this is mown and the cuttings are disposed of to reduce the fertility of the soil. This process helps to encourage even greater bio-diversity and the growth of more wild flowers. The cuttings are partly composted and a substantial proportion are taken by local farmers for animal feed and winter bedding for their cattle.

The Countryside Stewardship Scheme concludes in December 2024 and Carolyn and Lizzie are looking at following a new scheme thereafter called ELMS (the Environmental Land Management Scheme).

Says Carolyn "By reducing the intensity of arable farming and deliberately taking a more environmentally focused approach, our aim is to help replenish some of the biodiversity of the land over which we are temporary custodians. Some people may feel that this has an untidy appearance, but since starting this scheme we now have a better understanding that it's necessary to have a more natural approach to encourage wildlife"

"After the second world war, there was a major drive to increase UK food production, given the anxieties that had been experienced by the nation over potential food shortages during that period. This led to the digging up of hedgerows to create larger open fields and a heavy use of pesticides and nitrogen-based fertilisers by British farmers, to ramp up productivity from the land."

"But, as we now all understand, this led to excessive nitrogen levels in the soil and reduced the diversity of flora and fauna. We are in the process of reversing that."

Lizzie was keen to emphasise that this is a conscious and deliberate strategy: "The regenerative farming approach means that we only trim hedges on one side per year, alternating each time, to offer greater nesting options for birdlife. And the natural growth allowed to take place on the land also provides improved coverage for ground nesting birds. We have seen very positive outcomes with the return of species that haven't been seen here for many years. These initiatives were started by Tom in his latter years and we are determined to maintain them."

"The footpaths and permissive field paths remain in place, of course – but we really wish to emphasise how important it is for dog walkers to keep their pets on leads, please, and that they aren't allowed to run freely over the areas in which we are seeking to re-establish ground nesting birds."

"Our approach as part of the Countryside Stewardship Scheme has been producing some very encouraging results – for example, we now see a greater variety of insects and invertebrates at Ponny and elsewhere on the land we are seeing more skylarks, kestrels, corn buntings, as well as deer and lots more hare."

If you've enjoyed reading more about Manor Farm, you will be delighted to learn that the Village Society is hoping to host a live talk by Lizzie and Carolyn in the New Year.

Keith Milmer
August 2023

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