Wednesday, May 22, 2024

FROM THE RIDGE: Biodiversity is a natural occurrence on-farm

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I read a piece the other day by an earnest greenie calling our paddocks pastoral monocultures. They argued that we needed far greater biodiversity than a simple construct of ryegrass and clover.
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Steve Wyn-Harris | November 11, 2020 from GlobalHQ on Vimeo.

Oh, if it were that simple to keep just these two species cohabitating in a symbiotic relationship, my life would be far easier. And profitable.

They reckoned we should be adding other species into our drills.

Anyway, stung by the criticism of my verdant fields, I decided to go out there and get down on my hands and knees and have a close look to see what was actually there.

Yes, there was the ryegrass, but in various places on the farm one could find a little cocksfoot, poa, browntop, sweet vernal, timothy, paspalum, Yorkshire fog, tall fescue, barley grass, crested dogstail, prairie grass, danthonia and several grasses I couldn’t recognise or time had erased from my memory.

There was my beloved white clover but also plenty of subterranean, some suckling, a bit of red from plantings that started with a hiss and a roar but found it too hot here, and even a touch of trefoil.

But what was this? There’s other stuff here as well.

Once, I might have thought of plantain and chicory as weeds but have had love affairs with both over the past two to three decades and have been in-and-out of them, but plants keep popping up all over the place.

Then there are those other plants in my pastures I could call herbs or weeds, depending upon my inclination. Such great and evocative names.

Shepherd’s purse, spurrey, dock, buttercup, dandelion, chickweed, storksbill – which gave one of my bulls a photosensitive reaction this winter – fathen, penny royal, speedwell, yarrow, hedge mustard and even a bit of fumitory.

Plenty of others as well, but I didn’t know them and my notebook was starting to fill  – such was the biodiversity of my plain, old pastures.

Hold on. Is that thistle? Yes, it is. And there’s plenty more where that came from.

Scotch, nodding, wing, Californian (The Californians call them Canadian), a few marsh in a swampy area and the occasional variegated that I wait every spring to pop up their heads before attacking them with my grubber. Sadly, no melancholy thistles, which I have heard of and like just for their name.

While noting the nasty things on my farm, don’t forget the stinging nettles, the blackberry that continues to try and take over my riparian strips and the solitary gorse plant, which I really should deal with too, but the surprise of seeing it here has stayed in my hand for now.

My paddocks were now taking on the moniker of a mixed herbal ley without me even trying too hard.

Boyed by this veritable abundance of biodiversity, I popped down to one of my creeks.

The watercress I bring home to eat and give away was looking tasty, along with the puha plants along the edges. Big tuna swim in here and eat the koura if the little fellows don’t keep their eyes peeled. Also, a few varieties of the little native fish can be seen darting amongst the water plants no doubt eating the little snails that carry the liver fluke that my stock can get if I’m not vigilant.

Trees abound here after our continuous planting over 50 years. Exotic and native species and some several hundred different species. Good to see that on well-planted farms, the carbon being sequestered exceeds the emissions being produced and maybe this will be recognised by the powers that be one day.

I used to keep a record of every new bird sighting here and it got up to many scores of different species. Just the natives included fantails, waxeyes, kereru, moreporks, tuis, bellbirds, pukeko – although an immigrant from Australia a few hundred years ago – paradise ducks and kingfishers.

I guess I could start having a look at the lichens, moulds, insects and even microbes, but by now I was starting to be overwhelmed by the sheer volume of wildlife and diversity on my small sheep and beef farm.

The next time someone suggests to you that a bit more biodiversity would be a good idea on your farm, hand them your own list.

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