In the Fens there is an uneasy unison between men and nature. Men hardened over the generations in the battle to confine water to a myriad of dykes, drains and rivers, and nature always intent to gain advantage.
Changing seasons cast lengthening shadows on the farming scene. I empathise with men of the soil who wrestle with the unreliability of weather patterns and crops bedevilled by unseasonable conditions. Fields are waterlogged and pumps work flat out to lower water levels. Then comes drought and young shoots are parched.
Who would want to be a farmer in the age of climate change? truth is we would all be undone without them. Nowadays, uncertainty highlights the agricultural scene. It has not always been like that. In the mid-19th Century men made redundant from the north’s satanic mills flocked to the Fens to furrow emerging ultra-rich soil. Likewise, the Irish, beset by potato famine, found favour in the drained fields.
Huguenot and Walloon refuges and Scottish and Dutch prisoners-of-war gave us what we have now. Steam pumps thundered against water encroachment and seasons were predictable. It was bonanza time in the country’s highly prolific lowland, the land of black gold. At Chatteris, reclaimed land produced two crops of wheat in the same fields in the same season. So vigorous was growth and no fertiliser needed. Women and children all over the Fens were paid a penny a day to deliberately trample shoots into the ground and delay growth. Carrots grew in abundance not for human consumption and were purposely fed as cattle fodder.
As the pumps took hold upland farmers abandoned their fields and purchased emerging virile land and they built houses in Fenland towns. Later, they moved into the countryside and began to farm. the Fens were justifiably known as the nation’s bread basket. It’s not like that now. Some farmers would probably like to move away. A new age is with us and prospects, like our unpredictable weather, very uncertain.