WINTER is certainly here, with dark nights, torrential rain and water streaming across the fields accompanied by an ever repeating cycle of feeding and bedding down the animals.

In many ways it is a comforting time of year, with warm winter stews, roaring fires and calves being born as well as the annual village carol service, which ends with a roof lifting rendition of the Twelve Days of Christmas.

It is perhaps the time of year when we are closest to our animals, in summer the cattle are out in the Forest or in the fields and whilst we check them regularly it is more from a distance rather than the more personal scratch of the head, the daily opening and closing of the farm gate to let the cows in or the helping hand to a calf trying to latch on to its mother for the first time.

Our daily routine begins with the morning jobs in the dark- checking the cows and calves, letting in those that have been out in the Forest overnight and letting the riding horses out in to the fields.

The kids are responsible for filling up the wood basket and filling up the haynets for their ponies. During the day, whilst Robert is out at work, I go back out in to the fields and down to the barn to check in the daylight on the cows and calves.

After work we let the cows out in to the Forest and, using the tractor, put the round bales of hay in front of the feed barriers ready for the next day and spread the straw and bracken in the barn for the cattle to lay in the dry.

Cows like most animals prefer to calve at night so the alarm is often set for 2am for a late night check if we suspect a cow may be calving. Usually they calve alone but occasionally they need a helping hand. Weekends are used for bigger jobs.

Fencing, cleaning out the barns, delivering hay and tagging calves.

The current political situation leaves us as commoners and farmers very unsettled and unsure about our future.

The New Forest depends in many ways on European funding and it remains very unclear what impact Brexit and future agriculture policy could have on our lives and on the future management of the Forest.

Whilst many Forest organisations are involved in discussions about the future, we as individuals have begun to look closely at how we can continue our commoning activities going forward and what changes we will need to make. Reflecting on this and the international climate change discussions our first New Year’s Resolution for 2019 is to only eat meat that is either home or locally produced, and to be brave and have a go at marketing our own produce to local restaurants.

The unique biodiversity of the New Forest depends on grazing and ensuring traditional commoning practices continue is vital for the Forest. But everything changes and commoners are resilient people having adapted to and survived many changes in the past.

Have a wonderful Christmas. Stay safe on your journeys across the Forest and make sure you get out for a walk to enjoy our wonderful holiday.

Lyndsey Stride

Commoning Family

Twitter: @Cuffnells