The animals at Honeydale haven’t quite taken over yet, but they’ve been creating havoc in the Heritage Orchard! Readers of this blog will know that we’re very keen to encourage a wide variety of wildlife to make their home at Honeydale and to introduce livestock back onto the land to improve soil fertility. But sometimes managing all the different species of animals which now live here can be a bit of a headache.
We guarded the fruit trees in the orchard from deer with tree shelters, and while doing their job effectively, the shelters created another problem. While they protected the trees from one species of wildlife,they made them vulnerable to a different one, as they proved to be popular nesting boxes for field voles. The voles have destroyed 69 of the trees in the lower area of the orchard by chewing the stems, which is precisely what we were trying to stop the deer from doing! If less than 25% of the stem is damaged the tree can survive but the ground-dwelling voles at Honeydale have been very thorough, and have chewed all the way around the stem, so sadly the trees can’t be saved. We’ve replanted the damaged trees with bare root saplings and some potted trees, putting woollen mats around them all to prevent competition from weeds until the tree roots are better established.
We tried to graze the heritage orchard with sheep to keep the grass, and therefore the voles, at bay. But the sheep were rubbing against the trees, stakes and guards and knocking them over. They also enjoyed pulling up the woollen mats, so we’ve moved them to the permanent grassland where they can now enjoy grazing around the ponds.
We’ve cut the grass all around the trees to remove the voles’ habitat and though this seems a bit harsh, unless we do this we won’t have any trees, which will ultimately support a wide variety of wildlife, including voles!
Hopefully all the animals will behave themselves for a while, and we can get on with other jobs on the farm, including ploughing.
We’re very much in favour of shallow ploughing at Honeydale, as an alternative to glyphosate and deep ploughing. Shallow ploughs are precision machines that need careful setting up so they don’t plough too deep and invert the soil, the theory being that soil biological material should remain on the surface of the soil where it can be utilised by crops. We had some teething problems with the setting up of ours, which has delayed the ploughing of the stubble turnips area, but we’ve now done this, and are waiting to plant spring wheat when the weather allows.