The vast majority of us would agree that it was about time we were due for a good summer and at last this year we have been treated to one. Evidently over the last six months or so Mother Nature has certainly corrected itself in a way which we have not seen the like of for a number of years. However as all of us who are lucky enough to have rural backgrounds are aware, she is very much in charge of whether she is going to be kind, or throw something at us to keep us all awake!
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This report is not based on hunting alone. In it we will have a look at farming and what has been happening over the last twelve months. After what turned out to be the worst autumn, winter and spring in many years following what had already been an incredibly difficult time for farmers, it made many wonder what was going to come next. However, looking back at the autumn of 2012 is where I believe it is best for us to start, as it was at this time that the weather had a considerable impact on harvest 2013. After what can only be described as a difficult summer, land work by late October was becoming virtually impossible and many farmers on the heavy land had decided enough was enough and their only option was to start again in the spring. This was more than understandable and as we progressed into winter especially so, as it didn’t dry up but got worse. There were many who could be forgiven for thinking it would not be long before we needed an ark! It was when Nottinghamshire’s fast flowing River Trent went over twice that we knew we were in serious trouble and the already sodden ground could not take any more. The vastness of those floods was all too plain to see in this area as you will see with the pictures that go with this article.
Spring arrived and nothing seemed to be happening. Winter wheat and barley crops looked sick to say the least and the rape appeared ready for being ploughed up which in many cases it was. In a part of the Rutland Leicestershire borders I know well, the grassland looked desperate, and it was the same picture throughout most of the UK. I have never seen grass look that colour before, it was grey. It needed some much needed sunshine combined with the right amount of warm rain to move things on, yet it didn’t seem to come. Hunting in most parts came to an end earlier than in recent years, but it is when you look back it was surprising that we had managed to keep going at all. It is in a year like the one we were experiencing that we soon realise the depth of gratitude that goes out to the agricultural community, be they the small livestock farmer or the large arable man. It matters not, farming was going through extremely tough times and yet hunting in the vast majority of areas of the UK was allowed to finish its season. This in itself speaks volumes and is something the true British Country Sportsman should never forget.
On a quick trip to Exmoor at the end of April the effects of this extraordinary time were again staring us straight in the face as they were when I went to Wales a month later and one wondered if the bracken would ever grow! Further east the oil seed rape that had not been eaten by pigeons looked doomed to be a disastrous crop. All through the southern parts of Somerset and Dorset where the dairy industry is of key importance there was no grass there either and no growth in the bottom of the hedgerows, so how realistically could it recover?
Well recover it did and although I heard some farmers tell me they feared a disastrous time ahead, the vast majority were completely taken by surprise and even though it wasn’t a record breaking harvest, it was definitely not the one they were fearing. It certainly seemed from early June things looked as though they were beginning to change and by mid July, whilst still behind, everything was beginning to look somewhat better. Surprisingly an extremely good hay time came first followed by a harvest which was later than usual, but in some places not by much more than a few days. Interestingly the wheat and rape ripened off at the same time, instead of their usual pattern and towards the end of August some were combining and drilling rape on the same day! Something I have never seen before throughout the farming year. To forget our hill farmers of the Welsh borders and far beyond would be absolving myself of any responsibility in writing a sensible article about how the industry has coped and this is something I am not prepared to do. It is they who sadly faired a lot worse than any, with a huge number of ewes and lambs being lost in the late snows. There can be nothing more depressing than seeing the livestock you care for everyday dying in front of you and being unable to help. Such a cruel force of nature is something that we do not want to see the like of again. Lamb and breeding ewe prices have been held consistently high of late, but this is no compensation for what farmers went through and having seen firsthand the after effects on the landscape in these areas, it was hard to imagine how it would manage to recover, if at all.
So we move on to the autumn of 2013. The countryside here on the eastern side of the country looks as well as I have seen it. It would appear that all autumn work is virtually done and with the recent heavy rain everything has greened up. As I write this on 1st November, we have not yet experienced a frost and the rape is certainly high enough for a fox to lie in and be well concealed at that! Hunting has been underway for a couple of months now, with most of the Opening Meets having been held either this or last weekend. The early part of the season was very dry and there was little or no scent, however of late it has much improved and there have been certain mornings hounds have really motored on. November is not normally known for being a good scenting time, however, if the glass is settled and the ground is too wet for spraying or other land work, then tighten your girth and be ready to kick on as you never know what those old hounds of yours will be able to pull off next.
All that remains for me to say is, have a great season, remember all those who work tirelessly in these difficult times to show you the best of sport, and never forget the farmer to whom all of us who enjoy our hunting, owe so much.