This is a busy time of year for the farmer. After a winter when for six weeks the ground was under deep snow there is much to be done.
First of all the hedges were trimmed. These days we are called ' environmental stewards' of the land, which means for one thing we must not cut the hedges between mid-March and the end of September - and we should leave them a little longer than we used to do. This measure is so that the nesting birds are left undisturbed throughout the breeding season. Some of our hedges are quite high and made up of a collection of hawthorn trees, but some are just made up of hawthorn, blackthorn,field maple, spindle, ash saplings, wild rose and the ubiquitous bramble. And bramble thorny suckers creep out into the field ready to catch an unwary sheep this time of year when their wool is long and pretty messy. But they are all ready to receive the birds now, and already there are two pairs of yellow hammers building in one hedgerow and in between times feeder at our feeding station, just to let us know they are around.
We have aholly hedge at the bottom of our garden and there seems to be a cock blackbird staking claim every thirty yards or so.
Where the sheep have stood in the gateways or at their feeders, which have been very necessary during this bitter winter, the ground has been churned up. There are deep ruts where the tractor has crossed the field to the feeder too. So the first job the farmer did was to harrow all the fields; after which he rolled them all and then spread the whole lot with fertiliser (20:10:10 to be exact). Any bare patches have been re-seeded and then rolled - I think the birds are going to have a fine time on those patches.
Well - all this has been done over the past two or three weeks, when the weather has been just right for such activity. Now all the sheep have gone home, back to the high ground and the freedom to roam where they wish. No longer do they need to teeter along the top of the stone walls in an effort to escape confinement. Where they have knocked bits of wall down still waits to be mended - that will be the farmer's next job.
The blackthorn buds swell by the day and soon the fields will be full of the white, snowy blackthorn blossom. Hawthorn is beginning to show green - where the hedge is young greens up much faster than the old stuff. Bright green and almost in flower are the wild gooseberry bushes which litter our hedges. You can smell the grass growing.
This time of year always makes me think of the Browning poem:
Oh to be in England,
Now that April's there.
And whoever wakes in England
Sees, some morning, unaware,
That the lower boughts and the brush-wood sheaf
Round the elm tree bole are in tiny leaf,
While the chaffinch sings on the orchard bough
In England - now!
Sadly, the elm, that most English of trees, is almost gone from our countryside, killed by Dutch Elm Disease. Do you remember that brushwood round the bottom of the bole, and the way it suddenly burst into green at this time of the year?
All around the farm there is a sense of waiting - waiting for the grass to grow into hay or silage, waiting for the curlew to nest in the fields (they are already circling round in their pairs, waiting for the blackthorn to come into bloom - and later on the wonderful May blossom. What an exciting time of year it is.