Space for Nature's Open Farm Sunday draws a huge crowd to Avebury
The Marlborough Downs Space for Nature farmers promised this year's Open Farm Sunday (June 11) would be 'bigger and better than ever'. And it was.
Held by the Cooper family on their East farm - just north of Avebury and sitting below the Downs - it proved to be hugely popular. Laura, Robert and Jo Cooper had been working very hard, with help from their neighbouring Space for Nature farmers - the group's fifth year of Open Farm Sundays.
Doors (or gates?) opened at 11.00am. I arrived at 11.25am to find about 120 cars (three rows of forty and a few more) parked in the field beside the road. When I left at 12.45pm there were 300-plus cars and they were still streaming in. The lady with the counter had clicked in 1,116 people - and still to come were those who opted to have lunch at home first.
They need not have bothered. There was food galore - all, of course, locally sourced.
The booths and stands had something to appeal to just about every one of those eleven-hundred-plus people. There were bees, burgers, a barn owl and butchers (Andrews from Marlborough High Street) explaining the cuts of meat. For smaller visitors the Co-Op had brought along an educational game to get children thinking about which shop product comes from which animal.
There were small horses, young dogs, pigs (sleeping as if they always attracted such large crowds) and sheep (some looking decidedly chilly after a shearing demonstration.) And not far off there was a lady working wool at her spinning wheel.
Attracting plenty of the very young was a seven week old lamb who had an uncomfy Spring arrival. A slightly deformed jaw meant she could not suckle properly and had to begin being fed via tube into her stomach. Now known as 'Jaws' she is strong and finds she can suckle - and provided a woolly cushion for young heads.
There was a big play barn with mini-tractors (thankfully self-propelled!) and instead of a sand pit a very popular 'grain pit'. And those not too shy, could try their hand at milking a fake udder and teats. But those brave enough to have a go only produced a steady flow of water.
This farm is going through great changes. After seventy years as a successful dairy and Holstein breeding unit, with the dairy industry in crisis, they decided, like many other dairy farms, they had to diversify. Pasture has been turned to arable, beef cattle have moved in and they have a small herd of White Park Cattle - a rare breed seen on Countryfile.
East Farm, as part of the Marlborough Downs Space for Nature, which succeeded the government funded Nature Improvement Areas scheme, has done much for environmental stewardship. East Farm is run with the nearby Rutlands Farm and together they have five and a half miles of hedgerows, around seven miles of grass margins and three miles of wildflower margins around the fields. All of which provides superb cover for birds.
Those who queued for a trailer ride up onto the downland areas of the farm, had a wonderful view of the wild flowers. They might have heard the buzz of bees on the wild flowers and spotted corn buntings, lapwings and yellow wagtails - not to mention the Space for Nature's special tree sparrows which are being nursed back to the Downs.
Back in the farmyard visitors had a glimpse of farming's past with a display of implements and equipment from the collection at the Wiltshire Museum in Devizes. They got too a glimpse of the (possible) future with a model of the striking design for the proposed Swindon Museum and Art Gallery...supporters of the scheme were gathering further support to help their bid for funding.
I did not hear one mention of Brexit. But then there was so much else to talk about...
A bit further north at Wanborough there was another Open Farm Sunday. Lotmead Pick-your-own Farm and JoJo's Dairy also attracted a good crowd during the sunny afternoon.
From milk tasting to butter making, from strawberry picking to sheep shearing - there was plenty to do and to learn about.
Milking began at 3pm and gave visitors a true insight into farming life. Followed by a late lunch hog roast and mouth-watering Ice cream made with JoJo’s Dairy own milk.
Every day, the pasteurised milk from these cows is available to buy within two hours of milking from a vending machine outside JoJo’s Dairy.
There was also a display of farm machinery - from the very modern to some heavy, but very elegant steam traction engines. [Wanborough photos by Marina Rae]