Country diary: Digging for worms, and other post-Brexit jobs for a farmer – The Guardian

Tebay, Cumbria: My sheep and fell ponies provide a little reassurance when everything else seems to be changing
It is a warm afternoon and I am lying on my back watching two buzzards circling above. Although thankfully not as hot as it has been, the heat has temporarily defeated me and I have downed my spade for a rest.
Our farm is part of Defra’s sustainable farming incentive (SFI) pilot, and we have several actions that we have to complete under this scheme. The SFI is one of three new environmental land-management schemes introduced since we left the EU. As part of the pilot I have to assess the soils on our farm.
Today I am collecting soil samples to be sent to a laboratory to be analysed, and counting earthworms. In each field I have to dig 10 holes and remove a small sample of soil, then mix these samples together to provide my sample for that field, and bag it up ready to be posted. I also have to dig 10 larger holes looking for earthworms.
Once I have dug the earthworm holes, the soil is spread out on an old feed bag and the earthworms removed, counted and categorised. I have photos of different types of worms and I am categorising them into epigenic (litter dwelling), endogenic (topsoil) and anecic (deep burrowing) worms.
I am enjoying sorting and handling the worms, but all the digging on a hot day is exhausting, which is why I am lying in the grass looking at the sky. We have tested soils before on the farm, but this year will be the first time that we have to produce a written nutrient management plan.
Later in the year, another of Defra’s post-Brexit schemes – the animal health and welfare pathway – will help us do a yearly review of animal health on the farm with our vet. Sometimes it feels as if everything is changing, but looking around at the landscape with my sheep and fell ponies grazing on the hillside, everything looks reassuringly familiar. I am disturbed from this blue-sky thinking by my phone ringing. A local farm has surplus bales of hay, do we want to buy them?
We normally have enough of our own, but this extra will give peace of mind. Hastily I arrange to meet my neighbour to load it into our 18th-century barn. There will just be enough time to do that before I meet some of the Defra staff online to discuss how the scheme is going.
Country Diary is on Twitter at @gdncountrydiary

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