By Helen Keep, senior farm conservation officer, the Yorkshire Dales National Park Authority:

ALL the hay meadow assessments for our ‘Payment By Results’ (PBR) pilot were completed by late June, so those farmers were free to get mowing and gather in this winter’s fodder.

Quite a few have now completed that bit of work.

I noticed that once the Higher Level Stewardship hay-cutting date came round, farmers were so keen to get mowing that some did not even wait for a good stretch of dry days. The weather, though important to keep an eye on, seems to be less of a deciding factor on when to cut as it used to be, what with the move to making wrapped haylage.

It is noticeable, though, that the most species-rich meadows in the area, such as those at Piper Hole in Ravenstonedale, tend to be cut every year at the end of July and some as late as the end of August.

The PBR farmer who has the most species-rich meadows in the pilot scheme mows in mid- to late-August each year, allowing all of the flowers, including the later-flowering plants such as common black knapweed and great burnet, to flower and set seed.

Many farmers really value the medicinal properties of species-rich hay, tending to save those bales for sheep that may turn poorly.

One farmer mentioned to me that the traditional small bales they made on their Site of Special Scientific Interest (SSSI)-meadow were much easier to handle when taking them out onto the fell, with less mess and waste.

Making small bales is a great social part of farm life – probably even more important this year because of the Covid lockdown.

Undertaking the baling last weekend, this SSSI farmer was relying on family and their children’s friends.

I did offer to assist, but had a dog in tow and was in totally the wrong clothes for the hot and itchy job of heaving bales onto a trailer. I promised I would help next year.