Hazel, willow, beef and storytelling from Bedfordshire

The story of N

Two grass fields - on the left with nitrogen and on the right, without

Two grass fields – on the left with nitrogen and on the right, without

We have two grass fields that aren’t in the Countryside Stewardship Scheme. One of these, this year, we have top dressed with nitrogen in order to ensure we get some hay. The other grass, especially the new pasture, is suffering from reducing levels of that most vital element. The grass may be struggling, but, and this is in part what Stewardship is trying to achieve, other plants in the turf – the slower growing, finer grasses, and some broad-leaved plants such as birds foot trefoil and knapweed are able to compete and make their presence felt.

The benefits are obvious. At this time of year the low N fields , are beginning to bloom and if the rain ever stops, they will be buzzing with insects of all sorts – pretty good numbers of common blue butterflies are becoming usual – and the birds feed as many of those insects as they can catch, to their young.

From a cow feeding perspective however, this isn’t quite so splendid. Eight years of grazing and hay cuts have reduced the turf’s productivity significantly to the point that a hay cut seemed pointless when we were considering the issue in March. So we decided to pump some nitrogen into a neighbouring field, which we kept out of Stewardship for this very reason. That’s done the trick. The grass is a deep green, tall and dense and will make a great crop of hay (when the sun comes out). The picture above shows the fence line between the two fields – quite a noticeable difference. Hopefully we’re reaching a balance between fabulous habitat and small areas of intensive production to keep our cattle through the winter.

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