Julian and I have recently returned from a few days in Snowdonia, an area that we know reasonably well. It is, along with Pembrokeshire, an area that we return to often, the roads are quieter, the scenery is fantastic, people friendly and there are some great places to stay and eat. In driving around, or in Julian’s case cycling, we were reminded how much the environment and income of the area is shaped by sheep. In north Wales in particular it is generally very difficult to grow crops. The soil is too thin and not very fertile and the farms rely on sheep to graze the fields and the steep hillsides. The majority of the visitors to north Wales take the beauty of the area for granted but it only looks the way it does because it is grazed. If the sheep were removed, for whatever reason, the hill sides and fields would quickly return to brambles, small shrubs, bracken and choked with weeds. The footpaths would become unusable and the farms would be deserted. The tourist industry would be affected as, judging by the number of cars parked near climbing routes and footpaths, a lot of the visitors to the National Park do use these trails even in the middle of winter.
It is noticeable that in the valley fields where there are trees there was almost no ivy, as the sheep graze on this. We also noticed that there was an increase in goat herds. Goats are primarily browsers rather than grazers so they will eat whatever the sheep can’t reach.
We will no longer be lambing at Hall Farm but we will be keeping the ‘old girls’ around to act as field mowers and keep our grass fields tidy, Again if there were no sheep on these fields they would need to be cut regularly by a tractor and topper to keep the weeds under control, far less environmentally friendly and not so picturesque.
You may have noticed that many of the fields and farm buildings in this area, including those in Bentworth have bits of machinery guarding gateways or new gates and trenches dug around field perimeters. Over recent years there has been a significant increase in thefts from farm buildings, hare coursing and dumping of rubbish on fields so security measures have to be taken. For us it is a nuisance having bits of kit blocking the entrance to a field or gates to unlock. Before we can do any work it has to be removed and then replaced after the work is done. We appreciate that it does not look pretty but buying gates for every gateway is expensive and then we need to either carry a bunch of keys with us or remember lots of numbers if we use combination locks.
The Police have found that some of the hare coursers have travelled a long way from their home territory. On occasions the coursers video the chase and this is then used for betting on which dog catches and kills the hare. When the ground is dry this can be happening several times a week within 10 miles of here. Hampshire Police are currently using their limited resources to try and combat this crime by prosecuting those arrested and confiscating the dogs and vehicles with the intention of making Hampshire an area with hard policing so they choose to go to other counties for their illegal activities.
There is a lot of owl activity around at the moment but I am hoping that they are unaware that I have a dormouse in one of my nest boxes. In November I was clearing out the old nests and put my hand into one of the boxes, without bothering to look as I was perched on a ladder and felt something move under my hand. When I climbed higher and looked in there was a harvest mouse re-arranging the old birds nest into a ball and he/she was slightly perturbed at being disturbed. A few days later I very carefully checked the box again and it looks very snug with a small hole down one side of the nest.
[Please note that this message is not posted on behalf of Bentworth Parish Council and does not necessarily reflect the Parish Council’s policy]