Bluebells are beginning to push their spear-like leaves up through the cold earth and the covering of woodland leaves; spring is dawning. I am at Plyford Farm, situated high in the Sid valley, run by Kath and Nick Gray for 30 years. Spring is especially welcome here; the land is poised with the promise of wildflowers. Wild Daffodils, Yellow Archangel, Ox Eye Daisy and Broad Leafed Helleborine are just a few of the species present. Many of their meadows are categorised as County Wildlife Sites in recognition of their rich plant life.
The farm lies comfortably in the bend of a quiet lane, discreet and harmonious within the steep hillsides. Here the history of decades of farming echo in the fields, woods and old buildings, the work of generations of farmers before them still evident. There is a stone drovers track that the milk carts took up the valley and there are printed remains of an old farm building protruding through the sward of an ancient meadow; this was a dairy farm years back that eked out a living next to Plyford Farm, each family supporting the other.
Kath and Nick treasure this place, its plants, its traditions, and the reaffirmation of life each spring. The bluebells emerging and the woolly pale hazel catkins hanging in protrusion clearly show the doors to the new season are opening.
Kath and Nick know how privileged they are to be able to care for this small corner of Devon. Plyford Farm intersects with many people’s lives, though isolated geographically, the reality is a whole network of farmers, friends, family and environmentalists supporting their work. Nick and Kath are particularly indebted to George Greenshields of Ecologic Consultants in directing the way forward to ever greater biodiversity on the farm. Alison Cox of the Devon Wildlife Trust originally interpreted the meadows and woods, enthusing over the unspoilt landscape of ancient Devon. It is she who first identified the farm as being an important conservation area within the county. There is a deep sense of connectedness, belonging and responsibility.
Kath is keenly aware of her role on the farm as an advocate for nature and is sensitive to each intervention she makes on the land. Within a complex system even a small change can have impacts throughout the whole habitat. Time is needed to appreciate these, so observing change is as important to the management of the land as working it.
Kath sees her role as a small part of a much greater endeavour. “We need a new springtime in the relationship between humanity and the natural world, and everyone has the capacity to be a protagonist for change. For example, people with severe disabilities are often profound examples; showing courage, patience, and determination, which are all qualities we need for a better world. They also remind us that there are perspectives on the world other than our own.”
“Then there are the thousands of people who are involved in growing wildlife gardens, or who belong to environmental organisations, or who try to live sustainably, or volunteer, or conduct scientific research, or develop alternative technologies, or educate others, or create community initiatives, or even just pay taxes, which then go into environmental schemes such as Countryside Stewardship.”
Each of us, in our own way, can support nature. The loss of connection throughout our society with the natural world is worrying. The lack of understanding of our reliance on nature is bringing about severe problems. Each effort and each person’s support for nature remind Kath of the myriad of trees, plants and flowers that combine to create the wonder of our physical spring.
Now is the start of a new spring. I will revisit Plyford Farm in April to bring you a portrait of their wildflower meadow when spring is at its height.
Image by Charles Sinclaire