OK, so who cancelled summer? What awful weather, more like winter with lighting the fire and snuggling under a furry blanket.  Apparently we can blame it all on the gulf stream which has dropped off to the south allowing cold northern air to come in. Despite all that, it was lovely to be outside at Mazonwath dry stone walling again admiring the big skies and big views, curlews singing and the hay meadow colours.  There is something mesmerising, calming and rather melodic about dry stone walling, going with the pace of the build, a gentle progression of fitting stones together.  

We had two walling gangs on the go. Rachel and Richard were back to finish their corner.  They had never rebuilt a corner and have been giving it a go for the last few months.  Woe betide anyone else who ventured near it, they were adamant they were going to finish it and so they did.  The rest of us spent our day taking down a section of wall and digging for huge footings that had got embedded in the tree roots. But well worth the dig, what fine footings we have that will give us a really firm and solid base to the wall.

The weather is affecting how everything is growing. The grass has gone crazy but the hay meadow flowers are not sure what to do. Last year was the first summer for our restored hay meadow at Mazonwath and the flowers came out unseasonably early.  At nearly 1000 feet up, we could expect flowering times rather similar to High Borrowdale, ie the main show season being mid June to mid July.  With the cold weather, I was expecting flowering times to be delayed… In reality though the roadside verges are covered in ox eye daisies which are a good indicator of what is flowering. This meadow restoration is our third and was done for us by Cumbria Wildlife Trust two years ago.  The odd thing about it is that there are virtually none of the usual flowers you would expect. Plenty of hay rattle which is great as it reduces the grass levels, loads of buttercups and eyebright, but no ox eye daisy, cranesbill, red clover, hawksbit or knapweed. It could all be down to the donor site or it maybe that the seed was spread but just has not come through as yet.

We had the annual meeting of our Little Asby Commoners Association last week.  These are hard and uncertain times for farmers, and as landowners, we have a lot of the uncertainty they do about future funding.  The Common and several bits of our own land are currently in a Higher Level Stewardship agri environment agreement that is being rolled over.  That means we are being paid for farming in a more environmentally friendly way, but as new schemes have now been introduced, the old schemes are being rolled over/continued for a few years until the new schemes are fully in place, or we decide to swap. On top of this, the year on year Basic Payment Scheme monies are now being reduced and will fade out altogether by 2028. Current projections show that the new schemes will not cover this funding gap, a gap which on average accounts for 40% of the income of upland hill farmers.  The decision about when to swap to the new schemes and which particular options or scheme to go for is a hard one. More information on what will be required of farmers and what the payment rates will be is trickling through all the time, and Defra continue to pilot and test schemes and make further changes. But, the time is coming closer when the Commoners, and ourselves with our own schemes will have to sit at the kitchen table with a big piece of paper and a Defra handbook and plough our way though to see what we think maybe possible and what the income will be.  The situation is not helped by a lack of Natural England staff who can advise us on what they would like to see and what they would fund.  The Commoners have decided to stick with what they have got for another year but to start making enquiries about what some options would cost them and who may be able to help them, eg surveying every 10ha of the common for soil and peat, that’s 46 plots to be surveyed!  With the weather being so unseasonal things are even more unpredictable, but on the bright side, there is plenty of grass about and sheep prices at the mart are currently high…

Join us next week at Dam Mire wood, book here