Back in March last year I found myself lying on the cold ground, feeling the damp grass and mud start to sink into my hair as I took shallow rasping breaths, my whole body ached, limbs heavy with weariness. My son, Fergus, peered over me , his face looking down on me blocking out the sky, a slight tone of worry in his voice “would you like me to call you an ambulance mummy?” I slowly lifted my heavy body from the ground, leaving the imprint of my head behind in the field.
We climbed back onto the quad bike with my two children encompassed in front of me as I willed my arms to steer us back home, hay drifted from the trailer that we had been using to feed the animals.
Covid finally arrived in our household in March, 10 days without childcare where my husband stayed free of covid, headed out to work and while the boys and I carried out the daily grind of the early spring work as we built up to lambing and calving.
When I struggle for breath, be it through illness or stress, my medicine is the outside air, allowing my lungs and head to relax and return to a calm state.
This year more than any other I hear of nature being given a value, an economic value, what is it worth to us as a society? we hear what nature can do for us, how it can help us. What is it worth, the pounds and the pence, and only when it worth something do we deign to bend to its will and give it space.
It doesn’t sit comfortably with me, while I seek earths fresh air to heal myself, I question how can we put a value on Carbon or Phosphate? How can we value one habitat over another? Is it right we are trading the very air we breathe. What arrogance do we hold as humans to believe we own air particles? Why do I now hear farmers being called Asset Managers of Natural Capital?
Yet this is the move private investment heads, and at times I find myself being pulled into this offer, questioning myself, maybe this is the only way as farmers we can survive the changes, the low wages, the low value put on food. Do we need to start trading the lands nutrients, and carbon to be able to continue this way of life living on the land. Will my stubbornness be my downfall, maybe we could sell these ‘credits’ to build our dreams?
The credits that allow others to offset, stick labels on their products to say they are carbon neutral through planting schemes, or sequestration. So as consumers we feel good when deciding what to buy, we trust the company for the good they are investing in. However nothing is ever that simple and neither is my distrust of the schemes.
I speak gently with others as we see the way humans control water, land, air as if we can fight this turning tide, but maybe its time we allowed these wonderous elements the ability to breathe, just as it is designed to do. Breath in their own pattern not only when we believe they hold a value to us.
Rivers that have been channelled, water forced into ditches flowing fast paced past fields that in years gone by would of flooded and changed with the weather and the flow of elements that our seasons bring.
This thought alongside the long drought that Summer threw at us, brought us change, water is a resource that is key for us as farmers so why do we remove it, see it as a problem when we so desperately pray for it as we watch our grass turn to a crispy bed of straw in the summer droughts.
We spent time viewing the flows of water across the farm and knew we needed to hold this water back in the winter, slow the flow downstream and allow it to trickle off the land. Our Landlords keen to take my desires forward spent time building flow ponds, tree coups and blocked up a ditch as stage one to see how it would react and work in the landscape and the fields, holding the water back and ultimately creating wetter and more carbon rich soils, and rather essentially holding it back for when we need it in those long summer months.
We fed hay this summer, bale grazing our cattle and sheep as our grass became nothing but a brown bed on the floor. We lost too many sheep, the older ewes trying to feed their lambs which relied more on their mothers than usual, pulled down by their need for milk as little else was on offer.
Its painful to loose animals, questioning myself if I had fed hay too late, that I should of done more.
Leading me to a time that I walked across the yard late one evening, heading to drench an old ewe who I had brought in for critical care, my breath was rapid, anxious I turned quickly as I heard a noise my head torch catching a reflector on a trailer as I jumped slightly. Slowly I brought my breathing back to a calm, slow breaths, standing still listening to the stillness around me.
I headed to the ewe glad of the barn lights that shone around me as I flicked the switch. I always took great joy in the stillness of the night but this year my unease has grown, a weariness I didn’t hold before.
Situations can affect you in different ways, our pick up truck got stolen this Summer, in the middle of the day as our local primary school and I explored the orchard not 50 metres away. Speeding out past us as we searched for diversity in our plant species.
I felt vulnerable, I felt exposed, I felt scared. Its changed how I felt in my home. It brought back a memory from a month before when early in the morning I was feeding my goats, I felt watchful eyes on me, two men sat in a pick up at an awkward angle looking into the yard, their eyes following me and unflinching as I looked across to return their gaze. I carried on my work and eventually they left and it became a fleeting memory but it returned when our pick up truck was stolen a month later.
Phone 101 they say, we dutifully did, we never heard or saw the police, nobody popped in to see us, just another log in a system, another crime to go unsolved but my restless mind doesn’t settle as easily as the computer systems by our police.
So I return to my breathing of the fresh cold evening air, calming my emotions and stepping forward as I know I should.
Just as I breath in and out, so does our earth, but our desire to control those natural functions has stopped its ability to breath, it has been held back. But for how long will we be able to stop the need to take that deep breath to restore itself.
As our sea levels rise, sea ingress is very real in the Porlock vale, we could see these opportunities to allow space for the sea to travel inwards and protect others in turn, as stewards of the land we could allow that process to be restored as it was before, its not about returning the land to the sea or the river but seeing it as the movement inwards is allowing the seas lungs to expand for this moment in time. Aiding our community further along the coast whose coastline cannot breath due to the houses build on the marshland.
I sit with my back against one of the ancient oak trees, the fissures of bark digging into my back, my hood up as heavy rain hits the leaves above me. Watching the sheep graze around me, the push of my dogs nose into the crook of my elbow seeking attention as I slowly take breaths to help centre my mind. Tremors have been constant this year on the farm, we have questioned if this is our future here, felt exhausted by battles out of our control, asking if we are making the right choice for our family.
But my breathing is tied to the land’s lungs, the animals breaths and sometimes we waver but that doesn’t mean we will extinguish, if we give space to everything around us to expand like the rise and fall of our chests a constant rhythm that is often unseen.
My breath now feeds another soul growing in my womb, an unexpected gift to end our year but one that has given me clarity, a determination that no matter what is thrown at us I want to keep breathing that fresh morning air as I step out into the dawn chorus every day.
My breathing over the last few months has travelled from fear and exhaustion, to knowing we can survive, just as I need to rest, so does our land. Reducing our sheep and goat numbers in half to give a year of rest to both mine and the lands body. We give thanks to our landlords unwavering support through a tricky time, to all our supporters and most of all our friends and family who have been here when we have needed them.