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Wild swans and farming

by Riverside Beef Admin on December 28, 2012

Whooper and Bewick’s swans are synonymous with the Fens.  During the winter months they arrive in their thousands from their respective summer breeding grounds. Whooper swans breed in Iceland, and around 7,000 birds return to the Ouse Washes each winter.  Bewick’s swans breed way up in the frozen Russian tundra, and as the freezing arctic winter develops they migrate through Poland, Germany and Holland before reaching the Fens in the heart of East Anglia. Maximum counts of Bewick’s swans have also reached around 7,000 birds, although their numbers have declined in recent years.  This means we have around 20% of the north western world population sitting in our back yard around this time of year.

At around 2,200 ha, the Ouse Washes is the largest lowland wet grassland site in the UK.  The area is jointly managed by three conservation organisations – the RSPB, the Wildfowl & Wetlands Trust and the Wildlife Trust.

The swans use the Ouse Washes as their safety area, roosting out on the waters at night, avoiding disturbance from man and beast.  As night turns to dawn and Ely cathedral is silhouetted by a rising sun some 7 miles away, the swans being to wake. Family groups start a gentle trumpeting calling to each other, this is then followed by head bobbing, almost saying to each other ‘come on, it’s time to go’. Then all of a sudden one swan decides to take flight and within minutes, the sky is full of swans heading out to their daily feeding grounds.

The next part of the wintering wild swan tale is their association with the local farmers. One of the main crops in the Fens is sugar beet, which is transported to Europe’s largest sugar beet factory at Wissington. After the crop has been lifted a small amount of the leafy tops are left in the fields, which the swans seek out each day, effectively following the sugar beet harvesters around the Fens. If sugar beet tops aren’t available on the menu, then the next preferred fenland delicacy are the small potatoes riddled from the potato harvesters. Once all of the root crops have been lifted, during the months of October to December, farmers are able to plant winter wheat to follow these root crops. Once the wheat has become established (which it soon does in the grade1 black peat soils of the Fens), the wild swans can be seen grazing the young wheat shoots. Unlike geese which will graze a crop to nothing, swans appear to be quite selective, moving on regularly to new fields. This grazing by swans is similar to the past when sheep where grazed on winter cereals to help with the tillering of plants.

So the story of the wild swan is entwined with the modern production of root and cereal crops in the Fens.  The swans tiller the wheat, which helps encourage growth, and the swans benefit from the carbohydrates and proteins left over as a by-product of root crop production.  Swan numbers remain high and their body weight increases during the winter months, ready to return to their respective breeding grounds in prime condition.

Now that’s partnership.

Beef Yields

by Riverside Beef Admin on October 24, 2012

Data of typical yields from a beef steer

End of 2012 Grazing Season

October 24, 2012

The summer grazing season for Riverside Beef cattle on nature reserves and other conservation areas is coming to an end. The saturated ground, lack of grass growth and now the threat of an icy wind from the north east means it is time for cattle to be housed in their wintering yards. There is always a trade off […]

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Three years on.

September 9, 2012

September 2009, the month and year Riverside Beef producers ltd was founded. I remember well, buying the first two limousine heifers from farmer Roger Turner. The heifers were part of a herd which had been grazing on the RSPB Ouse Washes nature reserve in Cambridgeshire. Out laying the £2,200 pounds to purchase these two heifers, concentrated the mind ! […]

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Ouse Washes, September 2012

July 25, 2012

Ouse Washes, September 2012 Summer months are being left behind, the mornings are becoming gradually darker with the due lasting well into the morning, a sure sign Autumn is upon us. This time of year heralds the return of wintering waterfowl from their northern breeding grounds and the passage of waders stopping off to refuel before travelling further south. The […]

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Nice to be wanted!

July 25, 2012

Nice to be wanted ! I received a phone call yesterday from Mike Richardson one of EBLEX (english,beef,lamb executive) area managers. Mike has been involved with Riverside Beef from the outset, offering advice and support . The resulting conversation was Mike asking me for advice ! A Cheshire wildlife group are keen to set up a brand marketing beef from cattle […]

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