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"We all learnt a great deal about Farming - it helped the children to understand the idea of Farming more. A real hands on experience!"

By Reading School Year 4 teacher

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18 May 2021

The water meadows behind Bradfield Village have been under Rushall Farm management for 20 years. When I first came to Bradfield in 1974 Dorcas Ward’s father Giles farmed them along, with gravel top land surrounding Copyhold Farm by the war memorial in Bradfield.  His farm kitchen was always a warm place with generous hospitality.  Careful land management meant that he was able to grow winter barley on the poor gravel soils, crucially followed by stubble turnips.  His herd of suckler cows grazed the water meadows over the summer months.  Grass continued to grow on these dark peaty soils close to the water table so the cattle thrived. In the autumn when conditions became too wet they were moved to the drier gravels and grazed on the turnips while fertilising the land with their dung for next year’s crop of barley. It was a perfect system, maximising productivity by marrying soil type and the best possible land use.

When we went organic in the year 2000, we had to learn to farm without fertilisers and sprays.  The systems we had been using were the same as other conventional farms, planting by the calendar, with standard inputs of seed dressing, sprays and fertilisers resulting in fairly predictable yields.  Our agronomist came to advise every 2 weeks and we obeyed his orders.  Now we were at sea in a different boat.  We had to build nitrogen in the soil with clovers and beans and value the dung from the sheep and cattle, being careful to limit the number of crops of barley, wheat and oats. And the results? Definitely not quite so tidy, but much better for wildlife and us and a lot prettier, lower yields but higher prices for the stuff sold. And the chance to do what Giles had done, marry the farming system with the land type.

On those meadows Steve has been encouraged to fence water courses to stop cattle polluting the river on its way to supply fresh water for London.  So the task was big but then so was the workforce, 24 in all from the West Berkshire Countryside Society Volunteers.  Years of unchecked growth of hawthorn, bramble, willow and blackthorn had to be cut back and burned ready for the new fence.  And the bonus, another lovely day in this very special valley in the company of a determined team PLUS one desk, one fridge, a spoked car wheel and several antique beer cans from a previous generation of Bradfield College lads.

John Bishop