The Rural Payments Agency has given us Schrodinger’s saltmarsh.

The photo was taken a couple of days ago. At this time of the year we really shouldn’t be seeing snow on the fell tops. Not only that but the grass in the foreground ought to be a lot taller and ready to cut. After all, even round here, it’s common enough to get first cut about the 10th May.
There again, we’ve had slow springs before. As a child I once I sledged down this hill in my youth. That year we had snow in May.
When I tell people I farm in Cumbria, people immediately think of hill farms, and it’s something of a surprise for them to realise our highest point is the 30m contour. The photo is a view taken from this immense height.
But whilst I realise that we aren’t the highest farm in Cumbria. We haven’t got a lot of salt marsh. In fact we have none.
There are good reasons for this. In the UK Biodiversity Action Plan Priority Habitat Descriptions, saltmarsh is described as followes.

Coastal saltmarshes in the UK (also known as ‘merse’ in Scotland) comprise the upper, vegetated portions of intertidal mudflats, lying approximately between mean high water neap tides and mean high water spring tides. For the purposes of this action plan, however, the lower limit of saltmarsh is defined as the lower limit of pioneer saltmarsh vegetation (but excluding seagrass Zostera beds) and the upper limit as one metre above the level of highest astronomical tides to take in transitional zones.
Saltmarshes are usually restricted to comparatively sheltered locations in five main physiographic situations: in estuaries, in saline lagoons, behind barrier islands, at the heads of sea lochs, and on beach plains. The development of saltmarsh vegetation is dependent on the presence of intertidal mudflats.”

All good stuff. Absolutely splendid. You hum the tune and I’ll sing along with it. I have no problems at all.
The problem is that according to the Rural Payments Agency, we have some saltmarsh. You cannot see it in the photo because it’s behind the cameraman (ruggedly handsome individual that he is) and therefore not visible. But our saltmarsh is somewhat problematic.

Firstly it’s above the 20m contour. Now if in this area, the 20m contour is now mean high water, there are a lot of places in really deep trouble. Secondly, looking at the OS map, there is at least a full kilometre between our RPA saltmarsh and the sea in every direction. So if it is genuine coastal saltmarsh, I can see house prices in Barrow-in-Furness and the surrounding area dropping very rapidly because they’re all lower and nearer to the sea than our ‘saltmarsh.’

Alternatively it might be ‘Inland salt meadows’ which is how you get saltmarsh that isn’t on the coast. This country has one, it’s the Pasturefields Saltmarsh at Hixon in Staffordshire. This is a remnant of the former saltmarshes of the Trent Valley. These were once exploited for salt production. The Pasturefields saltmarsh still has two old brine wells, fed by naturally saline water seeping up from deep underground. Perhaps I’m sitting on an unrecognised goldmine here? Or at least salt mine? Has the RPA spotted a diversification opportunity for me here?

Alas I’ve checked the water. It is disappointingly fresh with no hint of salt.

So what has happened? Could (gasp) the RPA be in error? Now every year the RPA send us, along with all other farmers, a form to fill in about the land use on every field and land parcel. It’s pre-populated so if you are doing the same this year as you did last, you don’t need to change things. But every year since at least 2017 they have turned a wet area with a pond and some trees into a saltmarsh. Every year my lady wife changes it back to pond, and every year they send it back pre-populated as saltmarsh. She has tried phoning them and explaining. They have been very grateful, taken notes and promised it will never happen again. And every year it becomes saltmarsh.

At one point she got so hacked off with them she asked me to talk to them. I asked the RPA if they have software that is designed to spontaneously generate errors, or do they employ somebody whose job is merely to go round changing things at random?
And of course it made no difference whatsoever.

I have been tempted to fatten a few lambs on our ‘saltmarsh’ because ‘saltmarsh lamb’ is a premium product.

The problem is I can well imagine one branch of government prosecuting me for fraud at the same time that another branch of government keeps turning our pond into a saltmarsh.
Perhaps we ought to sell ‘Schrodinger’s saltmarsh lamb’ on the not unreasonable grounds that nobody seems to be able to tell whether it’s saltmarsh or not.

But look on the bright side, our other pond (which has no inlet or outlet) is no longer a ‘river’. It’s taken us about four years but finally the RPA seem to have had somebody check the dictionary in the office for the definition of river, and have noticed our small pond doesn’t really fit the bill.



There again, what do I know? I’ve always been given to wild flights of fancy. You really need to speak to somebody who’s got their act together. From Amazon at :-

And from everybody else at :-

Yet more observations on rural life. We have cattle, environmentalists, a plethora of new thinking as Defra plunges into the new world but more importantly we still have our Loyal Border Collie, Sal. She is joined in a starring role by Billy, the newly arrived farm cat. As well as this we have diversification opportunities for those wishing to serve niche markets, living in the past, and the secret of perfect hair.

As a reviewer commented, “Another gentle and entertaining read about the pros and cons of Farming, ably assisted by Sal the collie dog and Billy the feral farm cat.
As always, I’m amazed Farmers make enough money to keep their farms and families going, given the ‘guidance’ given by the ‘experts’ in government and the Civil Service…”

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12 thoughts on “The Rural Payments Agency has given us Schrodinger’s saltmarsh.

  1. xantilor May 9, 2021 at 5:40 am Reply

    I had something similar yesterday. Google has decided my workshop is a jewellery shop, and even invented opening hours for me. I changed ‘jewellery shop’ back to ‘designer jeweller’ but couldn’t do anything with the opening hours.

  2. Eddy Winko May 9, 2021 at 6:16 am Reply

    If it works anything like it does here then you should claim that it is an orchard, glamping site or something else which increases your payments. They will soon be round to check if it means they have to give you more money 🙂

    • jwebster2 May 9, 2021 at 6:37 am Reply

      Technically they’ve checking it by satellite every year, so surely they’ve noticed it’s not on the coast!

      • Eddy Winko May 9, 2021 at 7:59 am

        They check here for sure, we have to give back 180 Euro one year as we had changed they land and they called us in the review the satellite photos to prove the point!
        I wonder if they are under funded in the UK? No, silly me, that could never be the case.

      • jwebster2 May 9, 2021 at 12:16 pm

        Here it’s a percentage of the claim
        I know large arable farms that gave up keeping small suckler herds because the penalty for a missing ear tag would be assessed across the whole farm, and would be more than the capital value of the suckler herd

  3. rootsandroutes2012 May 9, 2021 at 9:46 am Reply

    Glub, Glub…. (waves to the blogging community as he goes down for the third time), Glub!

    • jwebster2 May 9, 2021 at 12:14 pm Reply

      Yes, you’re well underwater if the RPA is correct!

  4. Alicia Butcher Ehrhardt May 9, 2021 at 9:50 pm Reply

    If they change it permanently to pond, someone no longer has a job correcting it every year. It is impossible to get someone to listen if listening would lower their income.

    You’ve just come up against a hard wall.

    I’m surprised you got your pond not to be a river.

    • jwebster2 May 10, 2021 at 4:37 am Reply

      The RPA is effectively part of the civil service. They’ll get paid whether we have a pond or not. Their only fear is that the government brings in a far more simple scheme and does away with most of the Agency. But somehow nobody can imagine that happening 😦

      • rootsandroutes2012 May 10, 2021 at 4:54 am

        If Alicia has access to British TV, it might be worth her watching some episodes of ‘Yes Minister’ – not just for the laugh, but for a good indication of why what you say is so true.

      • jwebster2 May 10, 2021 at 4:56 am

        She might be able to see this one

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