Farms across the UK threw open their gates this weekend for the annual Open Farm Sunday.
The day is a celebration of farming, and an attempt to get people thinking about their food, where it comes from, and what goes into producing it.
Marlborough News Online headed to Overtown Farm near Barbury Castle, the home of Barbury Beef.
There was plenty of family entertainment for young and old to enjoy. Our two-year-old cub reporter Sydney really appreciated a ride in a horse-drawn carriage, laid on by the local Riding for the Disabled group, based at Rockley, and enjoyed meeting calves, lambs and beagles.
For the adults, there was a chance to learn more about the Marlborough Downs Nature Improvement Area: a unique initiative run by 42 local farmers, whose land covers 25,000 acres between the A4 and M4.
The scheme helps farmers to deliver strategic wildlife management across the wider landscape – from planting tree sparrow villages to returning insect-friendly wildflower meadows from chalk grassland.
On a tractor ride across the farm, John Cooper, who farms at Avebury and hosted last year’s Marlborough Downs NIA Open Farm Sunday event, talked us through the recent history of the landscape – the concrete tracks that criss-cross the site were left by the government – which requisitioned the area to fix planes – after the Second World War. The old concrete military buildings are now home to barn owls.
We also learnt about oil seed rape production – how those bright yellow flowers give way to black seed pods which deliver the crop – and we had the chance to meet a herd of Ruby Red cattle, bred for their deep red meat, and sold to butchers and farm shops. You won’t, John stressed, find it in supermarkets.
The change from dairy cattle to beef cattle eight years ago was one of necessity, we were told. A litre of milk now costs less than a litre of bottled water, and as a result the number of UK dairy farmers has diminished from 35,000 in 1995 to 9,000 today.
To find out more about the work of the Marlborough Downs Nature Improvement Area log on to http://mdnia.org.uk