Many farmer groups across the country will have held farm walks this summer, to welcome others to see their herds and crops, conservation areas and habitat features and talk about food production alongside environmental work. At one such event down in Dorset, thirty-five people from the Martin Down and Allenford Farmer Clusters gathered at West Woodyates Manor Farm on the sunny evening of Monday 1st July. Landowner Tim Palmer led the group of farmers, family members, friends and advisors on a two-hour tour of the farm, stopping at various features along the route including beetle banks, unharvested cereal headlands, wildflower margins, arable flora plots and a tranquil pond in an arable reversion meadow.
Tim talked about the business and Countryside Stewardship, in particular what was making sense and working, what wasn’t, and talked of his love of experimenting and working flexibly with the elements and the soils. Agronomist Richard Roe commented on the crop varieties Tim was growing and the challenges of certain diseases. Dr Mike Swan, keeper of the wild shoot at the estate, talked about predation and deer control, supplementary feeding, and pointed out the various ways the farm had improved its habitat for wild game and lots of other wildlife along the way.
Cluster facilitator Jess Brooks talked about the farmers’ local target species including arable plants, orchids and turtle doves, and as we looked out across the landscape between Garston Wood and Martin Down, Jess congratulated Tim and neighbour Dick for establishing a joined-up cross-holding network of flower and grass margins and wild bird seed mixes which puts the whole landscape-conservation idea into practice. The evening concluded with a delicious BBQ kindly provided by Bright Seeds, who supplied Tim with many of the flower mixes for the farm.
Farm walks like this are one of the most popular and well-attended in the calendar and are fairly straightforward to organise. Here are some broad tips:
- Make a quick flyer for the event (it doesn’t have to be a work of graphic design art) and post hard copies to invitees – this way they can pin it up and not forget to RSVP/attend
- If you have a quiet member of the group, inviting them (tactfully!) to host the walk could bring them into the fold
- Make the route short and pack it with interest points – 2 miles is a good limit; have a 4×4 handy to carry disabled visitors
- Catering is a must – even if it is just a welcome drink. If you are serving a meal, set a cap and make it an invite-only event to avoid getting caught short on food or wasting lots!
- Try and find a sponsor. A relevant company may be more than happy to contribute costs if they can have a 5 min chat to the group or set up a stall for people to mull over whilst eating/meeting.