Hill farming does not of course primarily mean the "high hills", though they can be a part of its system.
But rather the vast tracts of marginal land in the UK between say 100 and 4 or 500 meters of altitude. Within which there are pockets and slopes of quite high fertility.
Often difficult to cultivate with today's large machines.
But an ancient and very sustainable pastoral system.
Dr Johnson, quoted above regarding Scotland, missed something quintessentially fine about the Highlands and the proud and hardy folk who lived there.
Not surprisingly really for he was looking in the wrong direction!!
Johnson was, of course, the man who is also known for saying; "A man who is tired of London is tired of life".
Not a sentiment I share at all.
He was, after all, something of an oddball. (perhaps it goes with the name!)
Sheep, en masse, were of course the end of certain communities and ways of life, especially in the Highlands after the Clearances.
On another point, 45 is not old to be lifting hay bales.
Many (most?) hill farmers are considerably older than that and still enjoy the physicality of life on the land.
Indeed, by even mentioning square bales (big bales even more so) much of the work of haymaking is clearly highly mechanized!
Spare a though then, for those who still make hay by hand turning and raking!!
And carry it loose.
Yet given the right weather and a small field full of diverse and fragrant flora, there is something ancient, fine and wholesome about making hay.
A favourite job.
And the smell of it safe and dry in the barn led one farming neighbour to comment "you could eat it"!!
Rural depopulation has already happened in very many places.
Driven by complex factors, but the aim to put ever cheaper food on the plates of lovely London and the cities not least amongst them.
The changes here in the hills of Wales over the last 60 or 100 odd years are hard to overstate.
Where hundreds of men worked and lived on and from the hill country now there are now comparatively but a handful. Many old houses high up are fallen into ruin.
This depopulation of the hill country has led to a considerable ecological degradation of many marginal sites.
Diversity, that so important factor in many different ways, now much reduced compared to former times, especially in pasture and hay meadow.
Bracken (which sheep will not control) and Brambles (which they will control) have already spread over vast tracts of hillside and into woodland respectively.
Bramble being the lesser of the two evils, IMV.
At least it's good for bees and birds, and jam!
The hill land cannot compete with the lowland fertility. Life was always something of a struggle, though not necessarily unhealthy at all and not without reward in ways other than mere wealth.
Mechanization is often somewhat limited by topography, that is part of the reason. And sheer stoniness too.
There are stark choices regarding hill land, in a modern world, IMV.
Sure we could clad many more of the hillsides in monocultural and IMV ugly dense coniferous forest.
With it's undesirable acidification of soil and often total loss of many indigenous species. But it grows relatively fast- for some financial return, they say.
New deciduous cover, reinstating the old forest, is too slow for much profit in a single lifetime and therefore impossible without subsidy. (Is coniferous forest profitable without subsidy?).
Sheep have one rather important saving grace. They maintain, through their even spread of droppings and urine, fertility on poor ground.
Though over stocking leads to a certain amount of reduction in welcome floral diversity.
It's pretty complicated, and it is tough to strike a balance.
Past over-subsidy and hence over grazing did a lot of damage, especially to native woodland. That balance is somewhat redressed in the last 20 years.
The EU listened to conservation concerns and put funds into "set-aside" type schemes instead of simplistic head subsidy.
Whether that continues under the new "only money" orientated UK Govt is doubtful IMV.
The dreaded bracken still spreads ever wider, partly because of the cost of control, and also the size of modern holdings.
Small is beautiful in this regard.
The smallholder will keep his Bracken at bay -because he needs to.
There is little to be allowed to run to waste because the balance is tight.
But small scale cannot compete against subsidy based upon acreage.
It's a brave new world.
And in spite of some State rumour to the contrary, wealth and it's a acquisition do not necessarily lead to contented people.
There are other factors.
((It's a wet Sunday morning!!!)
Last edited by PDQ Mobile
on 28 Jun 2020, 12:56pm, edited 1 time in total.