There’s a walk we do when we’re in St Davids and it takes us past a small lake – almost certainly dug for irrigation years ago. Since we’ve been coming here it’s been one of those dead cert places for all sorts of wildlife, with a large population of dragonflies, damselflies, birds, insects and marsh plants. It is (or perhaps was) surrounded by several organic farms. Today as we walked past we saw one farmer tilling two fields of old pasture. Our favourite mushroom gathering place was tilled and planted up with rye and another field, badly infested with Musk Thistle had been sprayed with some kind of weedkiller. Worse again, the pond had been drained of 2/3 of its water and apart from some insect hunting reed warblers and a few Wagtails had become a ghastly eutrophic puddle, thick with blanket weed; and what had been the point of all this water being pumped out? – as we continued our walk down to the beach we spotted the reason; several fields planted up with thirsty potatoes. Elsewhere other once-thriving pasture fields were dried out and worthless.
I can see the dilemma for the farmers here. This is a very small area with a rich flora and fauna and difficult soil most suited to pasture used mainly in the past for sheep. The government have been completely hopeless in supporting these marginal farms which could, and should, be kept as biodiversity hotspots, and I’m not sure that many farmers either understand the new ELMS environmental subsidy scheme, or indeed trust the government to put enough money into it. Let’s be clear; supporting the environment isn’t a plan for entertaining wildlife enthusiasts it’s essential for food production – for pollination for instance but also to support the incredibly complex food chains where, if one link fails, the consequences can be dire. Nobody is arguing that all agricultural land should be returned to the so-called wild – it’s more like saying if you polish your car every week but never service it or maintain it properly it will break down. Farmers land up trying to pay off the bank with dodgy cash crops; gambling against the system to save their land.
Anyway, that’s enough – there are many interlinking problems here. Farmers are forced into growing the wrong crops because doing the right things would lead them inevitably into bankruptcy; the climate is changing so rapidly that extreme events are becoming almost commonplace; and when food is treated as a commodity, prices are driven down by supermarkets and farmers suffer. I remember an alarming conversation with a retired grain dealer who explained how it was possible to make fantastic returns by harvesting subsidies as a crop was loaded onto a train and passed through several countries without ever being unloaded. Producers and consumers are the innocent victims of this profiteering.
The net result is a rather depressing walk through a once favourite wildlife hotspot. Happily we still managed to find a lovely little Marsh Bedstraw – Galium palustre and the Musk Thistles rising from their chemically damaged rosettes; but the drying out of the pool has allowed hordes of Hemlock Water Dropwort to germinate which, if they continue to thrive, will be a menace to cattle. All this is a part of the rapid march of global heating and environmental breakdown coupled with an inexcusable profiteering food chain. Broken politics makes everything so much worse. Anyway here’s a photo of the Marsh Bedstraw – nature abhors a vacuum! Last night we celebrated our arrival with several bottles of wine and listened to all our favourite music as the sun set and the moon became visible high in the darkening sky. We slept well!