Crich fields

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Our green and pleasant (local) land

Crich dairy cows

By Geoff Brown

Hay making in Crich

Part of the life-enhancing plasma that bathes our parish is the surrounding countryside. We are so fortunate in being able to enjoy such stunning landscapes within a few minutes of our front doors.

Agriculture plays a major part in what makes our villages work as a thriving community. It provides food, employment and ample opportunity for recreation, particularly walking along the many miles of well-defined footpaths. There are said to be well over 3000 miles of rights of way in Derbyshire alone. The countryside functions as the lungs of our community, provides a place to escape and contributes to our physical and mental well-being.

The parish of Crich lies between the moorlands of the Peak District and the low-lying fertile land bordering the River Trent in the South of the county. As such, we are mostly surrounded by grassland, supporting livestock production including dairy herds, beef and sheep farms. High quality foodstuffs produced locally include milk (for the liquid market but also the manufacture of cheese, yogurt, butter, cream and other dairy products), grass-fed beef and lamb. Sadly, wool is now a hugely undervalued ‘by-product’ of sheep farming rather than the immensely valuable commodity that it once was. Our local butchers pride themselves on the provenance of their goods, sourced from the surrounding area wherever possible. Grass-based production is far removed from the ‘feedlot’ type of systems used in some parts of the world and is much more sustainable. It is estimated around 500 million litres of milk are produced annually on Derbyshire farms, worth over £135 million to the local economy.

With ample rainfall, the grass growth is prolific, and you will have seen that several crops of silage and/or hay are harvested each year to provide forage for the animals during the winter months. On the periphery of the parish some arable crops are grown, notably cereals such as wheat, barley and oats. These are mostly used for animal feed as the soil quality is not always good enough to support the higher quality standards demanded for human food use. There are also one or two pig and poultry farms, but nothing on the scale of what is seen in other parts of the country, particularly in the flatter and drier Eastern regions.

Although farming is a 24-hour, 365 day a year vocation, farm incomes have been severely limited by the demands for cheap food and many farmers have had to diversify. However, this adds to the richness of the recreational offer, with a growing number of small campsites, farm shops, cafes etc. Government policy is for farming to be increasingly focused on environmental land management, involving the creation and maintenance of important wildlife habitats.

Please appreciate and support the work of your local farmers by sourcing locally produced foods where possible. But also respect the recreational opportunities that the countryside offers and always follow the countryside code. In particular, if you are walking, cycling or driving in the countryside, look after the very things you have gone to enjoy! Don’t damage gates or fences, do not drop litter and clear up your dog’s mess, even in fields. And if you bag it, take it away with you, don’t add plastic pollution as well! Fields are food factories and contamination of grass, silage or hay can spread parasites (Neospora caninum) to cattle, causing abortion and economic loss.

Our farmers have a tough enough time as it is, so let’s all work in harmony to maintain our fabulous environment.