We always knew that these meadows were going to have to be cut this year. In early July we had tried to interest a farmer to take the crop for hay but he was worried about the level of ragwort present. This led to three days of toil and many black plastic bags full of pulled ragwort, but he was still sensitive to the fact that little strands may remain and so we missed the date after which the nutritional level of the standing crop is not high enough for it to be used as fodder (12th July I think).
The decision was then taken to leave the meadows to grow until September so that the insect life has a chance to complete all life cycles on their chosen plants, the voles have a chance to maybe raise another whole generation within the protection of the long grass and we had a chance to take stock and work out what on earth we were going to do with everything that was taken off the fields.
In the event, we still didn’t have an answer to that by the time the arranged meadow cutting weekend arrived!
Actually it was a wonderful weekend. In many ways it felt like we were back in the nineteenth century, raking the cut grasses into rows with our large wooden rakes, all working together on the land. We were so lucky to be able to borrow a heavy weight piece of equipment from the Trust that we walked behind while it drove itself forever onward with a 4 or 5 foot wide cutting blade with a scissor action like a hedge cutter. It made your arms tingle if you were at it for too long, but it was generally pretty efficient. We also had some very kind people who were willing to give up their precious weekend to come and help including two members of the Trusts land management team. It was such a generous thing to do, I could hardly believe that they were prepared to do it. We also borrowed some young men – sons, nephews and their friends who seemed to think nothing of running up the slope of the meadow towing a hippo bag heavy with hay behind them.
By the end of many hours of hard work by up to eleven people at times, by Sunday lunchtime when it started to rain we had the first meadow cut, raked, bagged up and then the bags emptied into a small paddock that is fenced off from the rest of the meadow.
There is now a mountain of hay in that paddock. What to do with now is now the question and one that we are currently looking into. And of course there is the whole second meadow that is almost double the size of the first and for which we have no inclination to go through that again. Perhaps we get a contractor in to deal with it, perhaps we see if we can get some sheep to graze it, perhaps we buy a tractor with a baler? These are also questions that we hope to have answers for shortly