Sunday 13 January 2013

Seaview, WEBS and Ploughs

Towards the end of last year, regular readers of this blog will recall that I first posted an account of Seaview Cottages that used to stand down at the "Brickfields" at Elmley and later followed it with an account of Martha Dodd, who lived in them for much of her life.
This last week I was over the moon to receive E-Mails from both the Great Granddaughter and Great Great Granddaughter of Martha Dodd and we have now begun excitedly swapping information and memories of old Elmley history from around the time that Martha lived there. Martha's delightful Great Granddaughter has much to tell me about Martha's life there and who knows, I might be able to write a further blog about Martha entitled - "What Martha Did Next." One thing she was able to quickly put to bed, was my suspicion that the above picture wasn't of the Seaview Cottages numbered 1-4. She confirmed that it was indeed Seaview Cottages - one building housing four seperate tenants - one up to my girlfriend who never doubted it.

Yesterday (Sat) lunchtime, our three man team carried out our January WEBS count. I must say that walking  the circuit of the reserve's main grazing marsh under heavy grey skies and in a strong and very cold SE wind didn't make it a terribly enjoyable experience. Some of the deep muddy areas that I had to plough through also made it a pretty tiring event, but at least this week the 200 sheep were taken off the reserve, underfoot conditions should now improve. 800 small feet regularly walking through the same gateways all the time have left some parts a foot deep in liquid mud, hopefully these will now begin to solidify again, especially now that the flooding has started to recede quite appreciably. Getting back to the WEBS count itself, we had good counts of some waders (4,000 Dunlin) but overall it pretty much continued the run of lower than normal counts that we have been experiencing this winter, especially in respect of wildfowl. Wigeon in particular struggled to get past the 300 mark and Mallard, once the commonest Harty duck, coming in at less than 50. It was pleasing however, to see 6 White-fronted Geese with the 90 Greylag Geese and early this morning their numbers were swelled when another 23 Whitefronts flew in from the west.

One of the sites that has become fairly common as I have driven over Capel Hill in recent weeks on the Harty Road, is that of large areas of surface water spread across the winter corn and rape fields. OK, it's receding now but it led me to wonder if one, it caused damage to the crops sitting in it and two, if perhaps modern arable farming methods might have to return to the old ways, i.e. ploughing.
On Sheppey at least, arable farming consists of the annual rotation of winter corn and rape, with minimal cultivation. As wheat stubble is being collected and baled in the field, the same machine is also spreading rape seed throughout the stubble, ready for next year's crop. At the same time, once rape has been harvested, the field quickly receives a light and very shallow tickling-over of the soil and then the next season's wheat is sown. It's not hard to believe that over successive years, the compaction of the soil from all that heavy plant and non-ploughing must be quite considerable and that therefore when periods of heavy rain, such as we have experienced this last year, occur, the water is unable to soak away as it should. At the same time, in periods of hot, summery weather, this same compacted soil cracks up quite badly.
Now, the last thing that I am is any kind of expert on agriculture but it makes you wonder if a return to proper ploughing between crops will result in a proper soil structure. This was emphasised this autumn/winter  when one of the two Harty farmers deep ploughed one of his large fields alongside Eastchurch village. Before it became too wet he then broke the soil down to leave a nicely broken tilth almost ready for sowing. Because the heavy rain has been easily able to soak straight through to the sub-soil this winter the field remains un-water-logged and will be quickly available for cultivation this Spring, unlike those compacted fields on Harty where even putting a tractor on them to spray at the moment is impossible.


  1. Derek,I'm delighted that your research and perseverance have reaped a reward re Martha Dodd - I can quite understand your elation on receiving those emails.
    I, for one, look forward to reading further blogs and, one day, the new book on the Sheppey Marshes, etc, which must surely follow, especially now that you will have time on your hands with no WeBS counts to do !!
    Ken L

  2. thanks Ken, you never know, I might get round to it.

  3. I like your theory about ploughing. Talking to the tractor man here it is obvious that some areas are waterlogged that have never been in this state before. We've had a lot of rain, but probably not unprecedented so your idea that the ground has become more compacted seems feasible. We never see proper ploughing now!

  4. Seriously Derek, the sort of information your hard slogging is unearthing really needs to be put down on paper at some time. And I for one just cannot wait for the next episode of the Martha Dodd story. These sort of history snippets are priceless. There will be some in the younger generation who will, one day, put down their Tablets/I Phones/Games software etc etc and will actually want to read about the history of where they live. Well I hope so!

    And I'll add my thanks to you for digging this sort of information up and sharing it with us.



  5. Thanks very much Bryan, high praise indeed. Perhaps collecting all those snippets together could be my next project once I finish writing down my family history.

  6. I was having a look through your blog and the word 'plough' caught my attention as I've just been putting together a web page on the East Kent Ploughing Matches and in particular the increasing size of the machines used on the land and the rip it out/put it in style of farming - land use maximisation - in force today. The page is at

    Best wishes and thanks for a memorable blog