In 1995 we joined the ESA Scheme (Environmentally Sensitive Area). This entailed following a tight list of management prescriptions for the different habitats and historic sites on the farm. For example, stock exclusion from species rich grassland for certain months in the summer, or fencing off a wooded area to allow regeneration, or delaying cutting silage or allowing stock to graze until a certain date to allow ground nesting birds to safely rear their young. All good things come to an end though as this did for us in 2005! The ESA was replaced by the RSS (Rural Stewardship Scheme) which involved similar principles and now we are in our last year of this scheme.
So yesterday we had a meeting with the Man from SAC. (SAC stands for Scottish Agricultural College, and as well as running agricultural colleges in Scotland, they are farming advisors. Our local office is in Oban and we rely on them for advice about for all sorts of farming things.) The main agenda yesterday was to work on our application to the SRDP (Scottish Rural Development Programme) for the next 5 years of environmental management on the farm.
Maps on the kitchen table first of all, looking at the Rural Priorities for Argyll and which of the deemed important species we have here and need to nurture and protect. This is going to be a bit of a campaign! We need to build a picture of what species we have (enter Prasad and the ongoing log at this point) and have our plans supported by the relevant experts in each area. Luckily for us, Prasad has been in contact with quite a few plant, fungi and bird experts over the years anyway and we are hoping they will support what we want to do. The Hazel Gloves Fungus is one species here which is high on the list, and Prasad already has been surveying the woodland and mapping lots of different stoma, so we are a step ahead on this one!
Bluebells on a knoll in the field below the house. Farmer and Advisor marking something on the farm map. This particular knoll will be fenced off in the new scheme to provide early and late cover for the corncrake and other ground nesting birds. It has to be adjacent to the grassland we cut for silage.
How these calves have grown.
The bottle fed lambs (Brownie, Bob, Brian and Breeze) are growing too - with Brownie taking the lead over the others. They are still enjoying some milk twice a day, some nuts and the fresh grass in the Stack yard field next to the Studio and Shieling. This week being Whitsun week we have lots of families staying and so the lambs have been enjoying alot of extra attention.
And in the afternoon the proof that all the paperwork and discussion behind the scenes is worthwhile. One of our RSS projects was the restoration of the little lochan just beyond Duill. Due to negligible rains recently this is getting a little dry, but there is plenty of mud around the edges. We found a couple of House Martins beginning to build a nest on the steading. They are using the mud from the pond, flying off to collect it in their beaks, returning, one by one, to add a little more to the nest wall (to the left of the tail in the poor quality photo above). The irony is that Farmer put up a nice House Martin Terrace 10 feet from where they have chosen to nest - underneath the sliding door cover! When we came home last night about 10pm, they were clinging on to the small ledge they had built in the previous few hours, quietly at roost.