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By Katie Thear
If an organic enterprise is envisaged, it is important to establish what the land has been used for in the past. Have any chemicals been applied?
If land has not previously been used for organic production, a conversion period of two years is required to give time for a viable and integrated system to be built up.
The period may be reduced to one year if evidence can be produced to indicate that no organically prohibited substances have been used for the previous twelve months.
Prohibited substances include chemical herbicides, synthetic fertilisers and synthetic pesticides.
Before land can be put into organic conversion, the owner needs to be registered with one of the organic certification bodies, such as the Soil Association or Organic Farmers and Growers. They will require conversion and management plans, which is where the plans referred to earlier will come in useful.
Information and possibly financial aid with land conversion is available from the Organic Entry Level Stewardship (OELS) scheme run by DEFRA. There is no minimum holding size.
These may be hedges, ditches, walls, banks or fences. Whatever they are, their position needs to be established and their condition maintained. Overgrown hedges can be cut back to a reasonable height and depth, keeping the base slightly wider than the top. This will enable the shape of the original hedge to be seen and also it encourages new growth, which will help to fill gaps. Large gaps may need the planting of new saplings such as hawthorn, Crataegus monogyna, or hazel, Corylis avellana. These may need protection in their early years.
Ditches need to be kept clear, without cutting into the sides, for this may contravene the site line. Ditches are usually vital in draining the surrounding land as well as indicating boundary lines. If any major ditching or hedge cutting of a shared boundary is to be undertaken, it is prudent to do so with the agreement and cooperation of neighbours.
Post and rail fencing can, if necessary, be covered with galvanised netting to fill the gaps between the horizontals. Depending on the livestock, this could be pig, sheep or poultry netting. It should be well dug in to prevent burrowing under and be well braced at the corners. A tight wire running through the top will help to prevent sagging but beware of over-straining in case it breaks and whiplashes! Unless electric fencing is added, the fence will need to be at least 2m (6.6ft) high in order to stop foxes and ideally have an extra 30cm (1ft) overhang to prevent scrambling over.
Electric fencing can be added to a boundary fence if required. This involves having two horizontal wires placed about 15cm (6in) in front of the fence, one at the top and one at the bottom. If necessary more horizontals can be used. Alternatively, portable electric netting can be used. Bear in mind that there are different types and the correct one should be used for the particular livestock. Sheep netting, for example, will keep sheep in but not the fox out, so for poultry, it is essential to use poultry netting.