Actually this was going to be ‘diking in your shirtsleeves’ but that apparently means different things to different people. Here a dike is a hedge which is normally set on a ‘cop’. The dike cop is two ‘dry stone walls’ set about a yard apart with space between them filled with soil and stone etc. And here again I’m running the risk of falling foul of all sorts of algorithms because I’m laying a hedge (or in my culture, laying a dike).
Last year we dug the drain out that runs down one side of the dike and put up a good fence. So I decided this winter that I’d finish the job off properly, lay the dike and then make good the fence on this side as well.
The problem is that my Grandfather ought to have tackled this hedge back in the 1950s when we still had labour. I’m doing the job at least sixty years later than it should have been done.
Looking down the hedge, it isn’t as much a hedge any more as a long narrow copse. The ditch on one side kept it in place, but on the other side it’s pushed its way through one fence and was in the process of devouring a second one erected later. A lot of the old hawthorn is dying, and cutting it right back, removing all the dead wood and rubbish will hopefully revive it. Then I can hopefully work a lot of the new, younger stuff into the hedge as well. But it’s one of those jobs where your best friend is your chain saw. There is just so much rubbish to cut out. Also everything is so entangled. To be fair, that’s one reason why we use hawthorn, because it does interweave and make a good stock proof barrier. The problem here is that the good stock proof barrier is about six feet off the ground and below that you can push between the various boles easily enough.
So I work out which of the vertical stems I’m going to keep. Then I cut out those that I don’t need. Following this I cut away the entangling bits from the ones I do need. Finally I cut diagonally down through the stems I want so they’ll bend over and lie down but still keep their connections to their roots. Note that when I talk about stems, some of these I can just get both hands round. So it makes sense to trim a lot of their upper canopy away, otherwise they’ll be too heavy to lay into place. And all the thick stuff that gets cut out is cut into six foot lengths, put to one side, and my last job of the day is to put it on the saw horse and cut it down to lengths for burning on the fire. Today’s hedging cuts next winter’s firewood.
So in a couple of years, hopefully we’ll have a vigorous hedge with no gaps, and in sixty years’ time, somebody will doubtless curse me as they try and restore order once again.
The problem we face is that whilst I know people who can lay hedges, you need time and to an extent you need the weather. There are only so many months in which you can lay a hedge. Traditionally it’s when there is an ‘r’ in the month. But EU regulation and cross compliance cut this down a bit. Also you cannot do it when it’s too cold or stuff splits off rather than lays nicely, and equally obviously, I’ve got better things to do in the rain. Similarly high winds mean you cannot do the job either. So last winter I got virtually none done.
Then there’s the fact that, with food production becoming more and more marginal, there is less labour about, and the labour we have is far too busy to do jobs like this. We have the ridiculous situation of people, their mouths full of cheap food, complaining that they don’t like the way the countryside is going.
To an extent I can see the justification. It actually makes sense to subsidise food (because the poor spend a far higher proportion of their income on food than the more prosperous do) and then take money in tax of those who are doing OK, to put back into agriculture.
But the problems are caused by not merely how much money they put back, but how they put the money back. It’s how the various schemes are designed. A lot of the environmental schemes over the years have not been very good. Now a lot of environmental schemes are effectively contracts farmers will enter for a period of so many years. When the period is over the farmer can take on another contract. But because all the schemes are changing because we no longer have to just use the EU schemes, some contracts will run out before the new scheme will be available. The idea was that the contracts that ended would just be ‘rolled over’ for a couple of years until the new one was ready and farmers could then transfer seamlessly from one to another.
The problem is that some contracts cannot be rolled over. Basically, the various agencies have had to admit that the scheme they designed hasn’t worked. And you aren’t allowed to roll over a scheme that doesn’t work. (Which is sensible, it’s an attempt to stop public money just being poured to waste.)
Now if the reason the scheme hadn’t worked is because the farmer didn’t fulfil the contract, the money would be clawed back. That can be done and is done. But these schemes haven’t worked, not because the farmer hasn’t done what was asked, but because what the farmer was asked to do was never going to work. The designers of the schemes didn’t know what they were doing. It has to be admitted that in some cases farmers told them ten or fifteen years ago that the schemes wouldn’t work. Fifteen years later, the designers have probably retired on decent pensions, whilst we’re left with fifteen wasted years.
Still, Tuesday was a good day. For once the weather behaved, the sun shone and I ended up taking my jacket off and working in my shirt sleeves. There must be worse ways of spending a nice day in January.
There again, what do I know? Talk to the experts.
For this collection of stories, Sal, our loyal Border Collie, is joined by Terry Wogan, Janis Joplin and numerous dairy cows. Meet pheasants, Herdwicks, Border Collies, and the occasional pink teddy bear. Welcome to the world of administrative overload and political incomprehension. All human life, (or at least all that hasn’t already fled screaming for sanctuary) is here.