Soil In Their Souls

Soil In Thier Souls

I believe the farmers and growers in the Fen and marsh have a different affinity with the soil than most, knowing it was either embanked from the sea (marsh) or (fen) land reclaimed from flooding from upland waters running into the Fens. The hand of God did not play it's part in transforming this area to agriculture, it was our forebears who undertook this daunting task. Many of those same families continue farming on those soils giving this unique bond between "soil and soul" each generation wishing to leave their soils as a sustainable inheritance to the next. It was drained to farm, as it should remain so as long as there are mouths to feed. Areas turned back to marsh and mere, I can tolerate to a degree, if it does not disrupt our drainage systems. Most of the Fenland towns and villages were built on high ground on Grade 1 soil and what I find hard to accept is that this is the area of the greatest loss of these soils through urbanisation today. In the UK 50% of the Grade 1 soils are in the Fens and we are selling the family silver.

The rise and fall in agriculture prosperity have effected this area greatly, and yet many people still make their living from the soil. However, the ever-increasing demands on our lands are of concern to those in the Fens. Each generation is replaceable - fen topsoil is not.   The variety of crops which are grown has changed little over the years, but the traditional farms have been largely replaced by large high-tech agro-businesses supplying supermarkets and international corporations.

I have charted the changes and development of this fascinating region, from land reclamation, small-holdings and horses to aerial spraying and multi-national workforces. Land ownership since the 17th c has changed probably more than any part of the UK, driven by adventurers, speculators, investors, County councils and the fortunes of farming. The farming industry in the Fens at present is in an optimistic mood compared to some periods in the past but, we live in global market place where speculators rule, and change could be just around the corner. Many of the families here are longstanding and remember the good and bad times as well as flooding, it is ingrained in their sub conscious.

Not all farms in the fens are large, and the richness of the soil still enables the small grower to survive in a niche marketplace. Two agricultural enterprises I document in the book to illustrate this are ; Sunny Templeman and his family who make a living on 40 acres of Grade 1 silt and Robin Hancock of Lincolnshire Field Products who farm 16,000 acres around Spalding, both growing high value crops each with their own market place. The small growers and farmers have survived through resilience and finding a niche market place for their goods. The larger growers have been driven to expand to through economies of scale and pressure from the supermarkets and processors. The outcome is the loss of the medium size farm of between 200 and 1000 acres with this gap still widening and along with this has been the demise of a generation in agriculture.

It has always been in my inner conscience how precious our fenland soils are, much more than a tool for growing crops. I believed one should farm with a conscience where the fertility and structure of our soils is paramount to it's very existence and our life line for the future. All soils were conceived by nature but what makes the fen soils different is that man himself delivered and humanised them for himself. I set out to see if my ideals were shared by others farming fen soils by visiting the large Agro businesses alongside the remaining small holders and growers. Many I knew having lived amongst them all my life, others I got to know and it soon became evident that this love of the soil was quite evident amongst the farming community. The farmers and growers on the black fens have witnessed the loss of their soils more than anywhere else, with some have seen as much as a foot of their precious soil disappear during their lifetime, a sad sight.

Soil In Their Souls Soil In Their Souls Soil In Their Souls