Author Archive

Winter wildlife on the farm

28 February, 2012

Winter so far has been marked by huge flocks of fieldfares in the hedgerows and woods. As the extra hedgerows planted on the farm in the last fifteen years mature the hawthorn and blackthorn are producing more berries. These are providing a much needed food supply to the beautiful fieldfare, a close relative of the song thrush and mistle thrush. Most of our fieldfares breed in Scandinavia and northern Russia and I was lucky enough to see some in the pine forests of Finland a few years ago. To avoid the harsh winters of the Arctic the birds fly south in Autumn to seek out the milder climates of Britain where there are plentiful berries. The Berkshire Downs support very large numbers of fieldfares and they can add much excitement to a walk along the Ridgeway in winter. We have regularly been seeing flocks of over a hundred this winter on the farm, moving from hedgerow to hedgerow seeking out any remaining berries. If you are responsible for hedgerows or even an isolated hawthorn tree then you can help the fieldfare by not cutting the foliage back every year. The flowers which form the berries only grow on a second year branch so if a hedge is cut every year then few or no berries will be formed.


The remarkably mild winter (until February anyway!) meant that the bluebells in our ancient woodlands came up remarkably early and I was able to map their location in January. The plan is to record their distribution each year to see how they respond to our woodland management – we are hoping that they increase! The bluebells love the hazel coppice in our ancient woodland, Nut Wood.

How we hope Nut Wood hazel coppice will look in May, with bluebells everywhere.

Last week Sheepdrove Organic Farm Volunteers planted more hazel trees into the wood, both to help wildlife and to provide a sustainable supply of hazel rods for the gardens and for charcoal making.  The hazel trees can be coppiced every 10 – 15 years, continuing an ancient tradition, and providing a variety of habitats for nesting birds such as warblers. They will then regrow, creating a sustainable product, that can be harvested over and over again for hundreds of years. Our garden team use the hazel rods as pea sticks, supporting our organic runner beans and peas that are used for meals at the Eco Conference Centre. And if the hazel is allowed to grow for longer it provides an excellent material for our charcoal burner (see photos in the SheepdroveGarden blog below). Sheepdrove Organic Farm charcoal is usually available from Sheepdrove Eco Conference Centre, and our shops in Bristol and London although best to check before going specially.

Our charcoal, bagged up and ready to use.


Cereals with colourful friends

1 June, 2011

Did you know?

Sheepdrove Organic Farm has such as good variety of wildflowers growing in its crop fields, its arable flora is of National Importance.

Read more…

Funny cow?

1 April, 2011

Happy cow : )

See her picture…

Are pesticides sprayed near you?

21 December, 2010

‘Disgraceful’ decision on spray rules – campaigner
Georgina Downs, of the UK Pesticides Campaign, said it was a disgrace that the government has decided there was no need to introduce any new measures to protect the health of rural residents from pesticide exposure.

The award-winning environmental campaigner waged a 10-year pesticide safety campaign, and won against the UK government in High Court – only for the government to return to court to overturn the legal decision. Georgina pledged to continue her crusade – even though the government has rejected the introduction of mandatory measures to protect rural residents living near sprayed fields.

Farmers Weekly (16 Dec)
Farmers Guardian (15 Dec)

Congratulations Tony and Frank!

20 December, 2010

Congratulations to Tony McCoy for winning Sports Personality of the Year 2010. Congratulations also to Frank Williams who was presented with the Helen Rollason Award.

Watch the BBC presentation

Read the news on Newbury

Tree protection to be trimmed?

16 December, 2010

The Ancient Tree Forum and the Woodland Trust need your support to stop avoidable loss of Ancient Trees and to help protect one of the most important habitats a tree can provide – dead wood.

The Tree Preservation Order (TPO) in England is currently being reviewed and we are concerned about some proposed changes which would reduce, rather than improve, protection and could directly affect beautiful and valuable ancient and veteran trees*.

The Department of Communities and Local Government proposes to continue to allow all dead trees, however valuable, to be felled without consent. There is also a proposal to introduce a similar exception for the removal of dead branches – vital habitats that naturally develop as trees age – on living trees.

Essentially this means that very old, historic and wildlife-rich dead trees and dead branches of living veteran trees could be completely removed, rather than managed for stability.

Please help us prevent such a backward step in tree and habitat protection! The Trust has set up an emergency campaign with the Ancient Tree Forum to feed directly into the public consultation process.

Go straight to the live petition where you can add your own voice to ours**.

PLEASE, find 2 minutes today to feed directly into this consultation and
pass it on to your friends and contacts. This consultation ends 20th December.

In haste,
Neville and Nikki

Neville Fay – chair, Ancient Tree Forum
Nikki Williams – head of campaigning, Woodland Trust

Blackbird from Sheepdrove found in Sweden

14 December, 2010

John Swallow is a volunteer who comes to survey our birds each winter. John is a qualified ringer (and trainer) and the little metal leg-rings can be a brilliant way of monitoring birds.

John, along with assistants Andy and Mike, have ringed hundreds of birds at the farm. Of course many birds don’t live long, but occasionally they recapture one, which enables them to get an idea of bird ages and numbers.

To have a bird found elsewhere is rare too. When it happens, it’s usually because the bird has died, and somebody has reported the find, using the leg ring number. (Contact the BTO if you find a ringed bird.)

A female blackbird ringed at Sheepdrove Organic Farm during the winter exactly 2 years ago, on 14 December 2008, was found in SWEDEN in August 2010. I knew that winter birds here might often be migrants from Skandinavia, but this is still really interesting to know – especially because John kindly provided a link to the exact location at Backebo, Alsterbro, Kalmar, Sweden!

Jason Ball

Butterflies in continental decline

10 December, 2010

Grassland butterflies in steep decline across Europe
Drop in 17 species’ populations indicates a catastrophic loss of flower-rich meadows in many European countries.

Martin Warren, chief executive of Butterfly Conservation (UK), said the data from 3,000 sites in 15 countries showed an urgent need for EU funding to support sustainable “high-nature-value farming”.

Flower-rich grassland created by traditional livestock-grazing and hay-making over centuries of human occupation is either being abandoned, overgrazed or ploughed up for intensive farming, particularly in eastern Europe and mountainous regions.
The Guardian (10 December, p.15)

Read about the big butterfly project at Sheepdrove >>>

Wild food crop relatives to be ‘rescued’
Scientists have announced a plan to collect and store the wild plant relatives of essential food crops, including wheat, rice, and potatoes. The project, co-ordinated by the Global Crop Diversity Trust, will collect and catalogue seeds from across the globe. The hope is that the wild relatives of food crops will help plant-breeders to “correct for”, not only a changing climate, but plant diseases and loss of viable agricultural land.
BBC News (10 December)

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This news service is provided by the Soil Association press office to keep you up-to-date with the latest news on organic food & farming and other relevant issues.

No need to label cloned meat says FSA

9 December, 2010

the Food Standards Authority has declared that meat and milk from the offspring of cloned animals should be sold freely in Britain without being labelled.

The FSA seems to have very little regard for consumer awareness.

The Daily Telegraph (8 December, front page)
Daily Mail (8 December, p.8)

Farming Today – food from cloned animals

9 December, 2010

BBC Radio 4 (listen again)

Animal welfare groups say they’re appalled that meat and milk from the offspring of cloned animals can be sold in shops without being labelled as such. The Food Standards Agency board says there are no health risk to humans but animal welfare groups say consumers will be unknowingly supporting cloning which they say is cruel and causes suffering to animals.

The RSPCA tell Anna about their planned emergency rescue of 4000 sheep stranded on the moorlands of Northumberland – made inaccessible in waist-deep snow – without access to food.