Land Mapping Frustrations

It is with considerable relief that I can report what you will have already been noticing on either side of the road as you drive out of the village and down the hill towards Shefford. The wheat is ‘ up ‘ and showing well in drilled rows! You might be surprised that I mention this now but it was not a foregone conclusion given how dry it was in September. That very dry period seems a distant memory now!
The potential for next year’s harvest is already being established within the plants and our job, from now on, is to try and preserve as much of that potential as we can through management. By far and away the biggest influence of course is sunshine and rainfall over which we have no control. I always find this fact both humbling and helpful.
There is some plant development over the winter period but it is slow. A pre-emergent selective herbicide is usually sprayed which forms a layer on the surface of the soil. It will kill troublesome weeds as they emerge or are at a very early growth stage, particularly grass weeds such as Blackgrass and Wild Oats. Pigeons will have to be scared off the Rape if they become a nuisance during cold weather. This is a tedious and frequent task! Gas bangers and a wide variety of ‘scarecrows’ are not sufficient on their own. Otherwise the period from mid November to late January is a quiet one in the fields, a time to take stock, do budgets, keep an eye on the grain store, and service machinery.

Around 2005, the exact date eludes me, DEFRA, the government department that is responsible for agriculture, set about a mapping exercise to ensure that when farmers ( and small holders ) applied for the Single Payment Scheme, this would be based on an updated and accurate set of maps. The Rural Land Registry was tasked with the mapping, then linked with the Rural Payments Agency which made the payments; and between them, you may not be surprised to learn, they made a huge mess of the process and ran up considerable overspend on the projected budget allocated to them. This is now history ( for nearly every farmer, but not all ) and eventually we got a set of accurate maps after 5 or so draft attempts were sent to us. I will not bore you with further details, you might not sleep at night.

We were ‘delighted’ to find out, therefore, that the EU in their wisdom, have decided that government agencies should be using the most up to date satellite data and we are once again having to go through this mapping process. The drafts sent this time have not been checked against the perfectly good ones we have been using for the past few years. Where boundaries between different ownership had been clearly agreed, these have now disappeared on the new maps, if the satellite, or more to the point the interpreter of those ‘images’, is not able to identify a permanent boundary such as a fence, ditch or hedge. The assumption now is made that all the land is in one ownership, or even joint ownership i.e. both owners get the same map of that land parcel! Just to add insult to injury there is a printed warning on the documents sent out that they must be returned within 28 days of receipt. Great joy.

Talking of land ownership, Dick Bulley mentioned that he did not know who farmed all the land surrounding the village, so I thought I would very roughly ‘sketch’ this now. If it’s thought to be helpful and interesting, I can try and produce a diagram for a later episode.
The main road through the village runs approximately north/south. Imagine the Esso garage on the bypass at 12 o’clock and the parish church at 6 o’clock. At Polehanger we farm from 9 to 1: Chris Parrish at Hoo Farm from 1 to 3, Robin and Jim Simkins form 3 – 5: Bill and William Parrish 5 – 6, Mark Brinkley at Bury Farm from 6 – 9. ( Apologies if I’ve omitted anyone! )
This of course is very simplistic and doesn’t take account of the glass houses and small holdings. Nor does it give an indication of the size of farm as the actual boundaries are not straight lines and some are much further out on the perimeter of the ‘circle’ than others. Maybe that helps to set the picture though.

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