Friday, 13 March 2009

Defoliation begins!

Haven't had much to write about recently but a walk with the dog today changed that!

South of Banstead is mostly open space with chalk downland (Chipstead Downs), ancient mixed woodland (Banstead Woods) and a large area of arable farmland stretching to Kingswood. My stroll today covered a little bit of each; in the woods the Bluebell leaves (Endymion non-scriptus) are coming on apace; on the downs the violets (Viola species) are just beginning to flower and rabbits permitting, there will be a spectacular display of Cowslips (Primula veris) in a few weeks time. All was looking great.

Then towards the end of my walk as I came out onto a footpath along the side of a field, there it was - a very large tractor with two even larger booms to either side spraying the field right up to the very edge. Last year the field carried a cereal crop and herbicide spraying was so successful that just before harvest the only weeds in the crop were a few distorted Burdock and sundry small patches of a few other stunted species, highly efficient farming! Over the winter the spilled wheat seeds have sprouted and I assume the spraying today was of herbicide to kill all plants prior to ploughing or direct drilling for a non-cereal crop.

Ten years ago the area carried a good population of breeding "farmland" birds including Yellowhammers, Linnets etc, even Reed Buntings. Now, today there are few although the past two winters have seen good sized flocks of winter finches especially Chaffinches and Bramblings.

Modern agriculture has created mini-deserts devoid of wildflowers and their associated insect fauna hence the birds are lost. In this area the cereal is alternated with cash crops such as beans or Flax and there the crop is even sprayed before harvest so killing all those plant species that survived that season because of the lack of selective herbicide use.

I realise farms are businesses but I can't help feeling we have gone too far. I know there are plenty of farms out there that seek to enhance wildlife habitat but there are far too many who just ignore it. Hopefully things might change before it is too late but don't hold your breath.

1 comment:

  1. I, too, share your sentiments John. The Canon's Farm / Perrot's Farm fields are botanically sterile, as you know. The Langley Vale farms, on the other hand, are botanically rich. A shame 'our' Banstead farms cannot be more like them.