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Apple blossom

#CloserToNature with Smeale Farm

Our #CloserToNature series of blogs aims to keep us connected with nature this spring while staying at home. Beth and Steve Martin, of Smeale Farm, tell us how they are encouraging wildlife and nature to their land - and how we can all enjoy the simple pleasures these bring:

During the current Covid-19 lockdown, we appreciate that, as farmers, we have still been able to enjoy the wonders of a Manx spring as we travel around the farmland in the course of our normal work.

The pressures inflicted on many families during the lockdown must be immense, especially for those without even a garden to escape to for a little while.

With restrictions lifted slightly, it has been heartening to see families sensibly enjoying the wide open spaces of Smeale beach and the Ayres once again.

We have always enjoyed sharing the natural beauty of our farm with family, friends, guests in the holiday cottages and groups on organised tours, but with the cottages empty and visits cancelled then the best thing we can do is to share Beth’s photos on social media as our effort to keep people closer to nature.

Spring is definitely our favourite time of the year, as the natural world bursts into life with every shade of green imaginable and the birds finding their voices and their partners.

The gorse has been blindingly beautiful, such an intense shock of yellowness and with that distinctive “better than coconut” aroma that is so heady on a calm spring day.

We are thrilled to have a pair of choughs spending a lot of time around the farmyard with their distinctive ‘k’chuf’ call and snazzy red legs and beak. Nest building commenced in the lambing shed, but nothing more as yet. We can only hope.

The regular cries of buzzards can be heard in the conifers near to the Ayres and we spotted a peregrine falcon feasting on his bird breakfast in the pea field close to our cottage.

Peregrine falcon

The cuckoo is back this year - we stopped to appreciate his evocative call on a couple of days recently and although they are much fewer in number these days, we have certainly heard him each spring for the past 4 or 5 years.

Can we hope for a better year for swallows? Last year was probably the poorest we can ever remember, with very few nests in the old farm buildings. They are back this year, but not in their usual numbers as yet.

The warm, sunny April brought forth good butterfly numbers around the farm with sightings of peacock, red admiral, speckled wood, orange tip, wall brown, small white and we were especially excited to catch a glimpse of a vivid yellow male brimstone.

Garry Curtis from Manx Butterfly Conservation, was able to enlighten us about the brimstone project that he has been running since 1991 and how the caterpillars rely on alder buckthorn as their food plant.

He has very kindly offered to supply us with some alder buckthorn plants for our wildlife conservation area and we are very pleased to accept to add to the diversity in that area.

Talking about diversity, we had an area of one of the fields close to the wildlife conservation area that was too waterlogged to sow with winter wheat last autumn and so we decided, after chatting to Neil Morris from Manx BirdLife, that we would try to establish a mix of seed plants in this area to feed and attract wild birds over next winter.

We used some of our own spring oats, together with a purchased mix of buckwheat, white millet, spring linseed, fodder radish and phacelia coa. The mix has germinated and it will be interesting to see how it develops over the summer and into the autumn.

Wild bird seed mix

We seem to have a healthy population of hedgehogs as we come across them regularly whilst wandering through the conservation area.

It is always a big plus for visiting children when they see these lovely creatures and so we hope it will not be too long before these special moments can take place once again.

The apple trees are awash with gently aromatic blossom and the nearby bees are going about their duties with gusto.

Apple blossom

Poor apple yields last year saw us making fewer trips than usual to see Will and Charlotte at the Apple Orphanage. Fingers crossed for this season, their juices are such a natural treat and the perfect way to make full use of surplus apples from all around the Island.

We have been enjoying the sunshine, but, as usual, the farm would welcome a few more showers. Such a wet winter followed by a very dry spring, the weather patterns do seem more extreme or is it partly due to a selective memory on our part?

We are so looking forward to getting together with family and friends again and to welcoming holiday guests back to the Island, whenever it may be.

In the meantime let us all appreciate the simple pleasures of enjoying what nature can provide us with and count our blessings that we live on such a beautiful Island.

Facebook: Smeale Farm Cottages

Website: www.manxfarmhols.com

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