13 members met at Lee Farm, Wellow, the home of Steve and Jill Cowley since the 1950s. We gathered at Orchard Lee, a holiday home built on land that was once a slurry lagoon holding waste from 200 cows. The home is heated by a ground source heat pump, and some of the materials used to build it were recycled from the old farm buildings. Jill told us some of the farm’s history, and showed us maps from the 1800s with most hedge lines that can still be seen today. The visit was intended to show how farming has changed over the past years. The cows are long gone and we walked through fields of rye and rye grass which, like most of the crops, are grown to feed the anaerobic digester at Arreton, basically in Jill’s words, ‘a giant cow’s stomach’! The only food now grown is potatoes, 25 mainly heritage varieties, Steve’s hobby.
We paused at the solar farm, and were delighted to see three hares dashing about, the panels being good protection for the animals, especially from buzzards which were overhead. The land for the solar farm is rented to the electricity company, and the panels are undersown with wild flower mix.
We crossed the old railway track, with some cowslips growing in the verge, and passed an area of woodland, part of the JIGSAW programme planted with mixed native trees ten years before. Hawthorn, guelder rose, whitebeam and cherry were in bloom. A mass of orchids had appeared a few years previously when the trees were planted. Now shaded out by the trees, they could re-appear if clearings are made.
A rough field of permanent pasture, too poor to grow much of a crop, but with a large clump of ragged robin growing, brought us back to the farm, where Jill made us welcome cups of tea and coffee. Jill and Steve were thanked for their hospitality, and a very interesting visit.