Tuesday, 20 September 2011

Harvest time in Banstead

Tis the "season of mellow fruitfulness" * in north Surrey (and time for my irregular farming rant!) a season we associate with the golden browns of sun-ripened crops!

On Canon’s Farm, to the south of Banstead, the cereal crop was harvested quite a while ago but now it is the turn of the largest crop this year, Flax.

Back in April the fields were prepared for sowing in the traditional way (!), wipe out by spraying with systemic weed killer followed by light cultivation rather than ploughing and then seed drilling. Sadly this included the fields that had been under set aside for many years, these were not even cultivated but the seed drilled directly into the blasted soil.

With our unusually dry early summer, there was considerable variation in germination across the fields and in places the crop is rather sparse compared to some years.

A stroll over the fields two weeks ago showed the tell-tale tractor tracks that indicated that soon it would be harvest time. The fields had again been sprayed with total weed killer, presumably to enable uniform ripening of the seed by ensuring all plants were dead! Within 48h green had disappeared now all is a uniform brown no doubt the crop will be cut in the next few days.

As a townie I know little of good agricultural practice and no doubt those readers with a more rural bent and knowledge will tell me this is the way it is always done. Furthermore that agriculture is a business and this makes it most profitable. However that does not stop my blood from boiling when I see this going on.

Canon’s Farm has been put on the blogging map by Steve Gale and David Campbell as an area that provides excellent birding. However over the past twenty years I have walked the area and seen the demise of most common farmland birds as breeding species in the area, surely at least in part the result of intensive farming causing a lack of a consistent supply of food, seed and insect.

Even without the usual applications of insecticide, fungicide, fertilizer and selective weed killer that cereals get, the use of two applications of total weed killer just five months apart virtually guarantees a reduction in floral diversity that is frightening. Of course this is inevitably followed by a collateral reduction in invertebrates, birds, etc., etc.

I would be less disturbed if the use of chemicals was carried out in a careful manner calculated to minimize the impact, e.g. by the use of buffer zones around the edges of fields etc. Certainly in Banstead this doesn’t happen. The picture on the right shows how much care was taken during the recent attack to ensure spray does not reach the adjacent hedgerow!

I accept that farmers must use the most efficient means possible because they are in business but agriculture as an industry is the only one for which there is little or no policing of pollution from the processes used. A massive amount of chemicals ranging from fertilizers to insecticides are applied to our countryside, the only control being financial. Not only do they casue damage at the point of application but many if not most drain into water courses etc. This is should surely be unacceptable!

Just to add insult to injury and show how much they care, what do they do with the empty containers? Throw them into Banstead woods of course (a SSSI)! The picture on the left shows one they did last year!

* Apologies to Keats


  1. I empathise with you. Some farming practices are so destructive for wildlife and in my opinion not good for humans either