Church Farm Ardeley

A Free Range Experience

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Red Kites at Church Farm Ardeley

Several Red Kites soar over the skies of Ardeley. The photos in this article were taken by Paul Leverington, whilst waiting to pick up his son from Rural Care.


Red Kites are one of the success stories of reintroduction programmes.  The red kite became extinct in England in 1871 and in Scotland in 1879. By 1903, when protection efforts started, only a handful of pairs were left in remote parts of central Wales, and so it was a high priority for conservation efforts. The birds were reintroduced to England and now the red kite is listed in the Amber List of birds of medium conservation concern due to its stage of recovery from an extreme historic decline in numbers.

Red Kites mainly feed on carrion (dead animals) and worms, but are opportunistic and will occasionally take small mammals.

They construct their nests high up a tree with dead twigs and line it with grass and sheep’s wool.


A couple of days prior to egg laying, kites decorate the nest with rubbish and oddments they find near the nest. Paper, rags, crisp packets, carrier bags, even underwear and toys have been recorded.

If nesting is successful, the same nest is used the following year. At times they will use an old buzzard or raven nest.

Those individuals that reach maturity can expect to live an average of 10 years. The oldest known wild kite was 26 years old.

There are probably around 1,800 breeding pairs in Britain (about 7 per cent of the world population) —about half in Wales, with the rest in England and Scotland. However, they are now so successful; the RSPB can’t survey them on an annual basis.

Unfortunately, poisoning is also the most frequent cause of death of these magnificent birds in England. Red kites are especially vulnerable to the modern rodenticides used to control rats, since they are skilled in finding the corpses of poisoned rats.


Article researched  and written by co-farmer Sean. 




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George Orwell and the Jolly Waggoner

JWNot everyone is aware of history but a village has it’s tales of the past as much if not more than other places.  Things of truth and legend spread quickly, get embellished over a pint or two and then grow into epic stories of derring do.

The Jolly Waggoner which is also run by Church Farm and indeed by Tim’s brother Adrian has a long history and like the Church and the School and the Farm is a hub of social gatherings.

It is also a place of learning and earning with a new apprentice in place.

school hippo



Hippocrates revisiting his old school in Ardeley.



church harvest






Religion and Science side by side!



 All of us struggle at times, and some have more things to struggle against than others, and the farm and country life has an attraction and compassionate space for those who may be finding the urban life too difficult.

It is not unlike A Place of Refuge, a beautiful book by Tobias Jones, about setting up a piece of woodland and then opening it up to those who feel attracted for one reason or another.

George Orwell, the famous author of Animal Farm, who lived for many years in nearby Wallington, also wrote about his experience of being a kitchen porter in Down and Out in Paris and London.

It was from this humble role that people can move on, like Liam, one of our previous interns, who has now gone on to open his own restaurant in St Neots.  Stuart has now joined the team under Adrian’s tutelage and with support from North Herts College and was recently heard to say “the kitchen should be the cleanest room in the house.”  For a young man making his way in the world this was quite an insight and sign of his progression in a short space of time since coming to the farm.

washing up bunny

Washing up for how many!!!!

 More history could also be in the making from the Jolly Waggoner with secret talks about recreating the heady days of 1966 when England won the World Cup and mutterings of helping the school replace its broken goal posts with a charity replaying of the epic final.

Anna football

Anna displaying her football skills born thirty years after England’s victory.

Where were you fifty years ago?

 With apologies to residents and owners of the Village Green the training pitch has been removed to Squitmore Spring, an ancient field of couch grass, now beginning to resemble a piece of England’s Green and Pleasant Land.

world cup trophy



The Jules Rimet Trophy or World Cup.


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Growing Well

Rural Care

Rural Care doesn’t only grow well on our allotments!

There is a growing body of evidence which highlights the benefits of community growing for mental and physical wellbeing, education and social cohesion, for the last two years, Rural Care has been part of the ‘Growing Well’ research project.

The Growing Well project—funded by the Ellerman Foundation—will help document and disseminate good practice both to community growing groups who are expanding their work, and to decision makers who can help influence related policy and funding at a national level (eg promoting the use of ecotherapy within the health service).

Rural Care was chosen for the project by the Federation of City Farms and Community Gardens(FCFCG) as one of 30 farms across the UK, sharing good practice between those running established projects in this field and those that are setting up new projects. Good practice will be captured through case studies and desk research, and shared with others through promotional literature and online resources.

Rural Care shared their 20 years’ knowledge of working in care farming and social and therapeutic horticulture with people with learning disabilities in a seminar with other members of FCFCG.

The seminar consisted of an extensive tour of the farm led by co- farmer Terry. He showed the delegates around and shared his knowledge in great detail.

Our delegates were very impressed with our raised beds and picket fencing made out of pallets. They also met several co-farmers at work feeding and mucking out the animals on home field, and a group of co- farmers looking after our pregnant ewes in the lambing bays. We explained how at Church Farm we have to adapt certain practices so they suit the needs of co- farmers and how every year we manage to expand the range of activities so everybody can get involved. Lots of photographs were taken for people to use some of our ideas on their own farms.

In the afternoon we shared how Rural Care works together with Health and Community Services, Community Learning Disability Team, colleges and schools, and the stringent way we are monitored by all these different organisations . A lot of the monitoring is now in line with the Care Quality Commission (CQC) who inspects residential care homes. We also compared the East of England monitoring tool adopted by Hertfordshire County Council and the Care Farming UK Code of Practice.

The delegates also shared the way they do support plans, risk assessments and contracts on their farms with their different client groups.

The feedback from the delegates was excellent:

“Thank you for the work you put into preparing and delivering the seminar, which was greatly appreciated by everybody who attended; we could have spent another day there learning and being inspired!”

Ian Egginton,Metters Assistan CEO FCFCG

And for Rural Care? What did we get out of it? Apart from a new excellent tour guide called Terry?

A great recognition that as a care farm we are far ahead of many care farms in the way we support our co- farmers and in the way organise our activities and administration by creating our own easy read guides with lots of pictures.

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Ponies at the Farm


These two little ladies arrived on the farm at the end of April. Peaches and Bambi are very gentle and are best friends.

Since Genghis Khan and his archers decided to jump up on a horse (and discovered they could destroy more villages in much less time than they were before) man and horse have been great pals too.

Peaches and Bambi’s closer relatives grazed feral in the Welsh mountains and dragged carts full of coal through the mines.

Although no longer used in Mongal style devastation in the British Isles (as far as we’re aware), there are many horses still used to  jump things and gallop around with people on their backs, do dances to music, heave logs out of woods and drag around cannons really fast and in front of the Queen amongst other things.

This won’t be expected of Peaches or Bambi.

IMG_0163Peaches, the coloured mare, is in foal as we write and is frankly in no condition and they both currently enjoy  the quiet life; nibbling grass, nibbling each other and having a good groom, a fart and a walk.

Bambi is the bay. She is paralysed on part of her face from an old injury so she needs a nice mushy breakfast and a careful hand with the head collar. It’s nothing to worry about. She just gets a bit dribbly, bless her heart.IMG_0161

We’re all getting to know them slowly. Horses have been used for work because they are big and strong, and as therapeutic tools because they are honest and communicative. Being herd animals they have great social intelligence and are really good at convincing carrots out of people. Please don’t fall for it and feed them anything over the fence because they can become very nippy and naughty and then we have to tell them off.

Some of our Co-Farmers are learning how to be around them, reading their language and understanding the give and take of horsemanship. Others are already leading them around or holding their breakfast for them. There are Co-Farmers who are happy being in the field with them or simply watching over the fence.  Either way they will enrich our day and offer yet another experience to our Co-Farmers. Hopefully we can enrich theirs, too.

Fingers crossed that everything will be well with Peaches’ foal and that very soon we will have a very special arrival on the farm. Please come and say hello as soon as you can, but please remember: No jumping on and riding them around for a bit, no letting them out, no screaming and crying (this applies in general), no frightening them, no canons (as does this) and no bloomin’ tit bits!

Love Rural Care x


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Lambing with Rural Care: The Real Picture

This is the second year Rural Care has taken on the full livestock management of the sheep at Church Farm, and this of course involves lambing!

Charlotte, our Rural Care livestock manager, gave us a course in lambing in advance. For some of us who were involved last year it was just a little bit less daunting than the year before.  The whole Rural Care staff team, volunteers and co-farmers got involved and several of our co-farmers actually delivered lambs this year!


Lambing can take a long time and lots of energy for humans as well as sheep.  For humans this might be bags full of chocolate and biscuits, for the ewes it is soaked sugar beet as well as loads of lubricant and orange arm length gloves.

All the pregnant ewes where put into our lambing bays two weeks before the first lambs where due.  The ewes had been scanned beforehand so we knew if they were expecting one, two or three lambs. They were marked with a coloured spot on their back, so we knew how many lambs to expect during delivery.

Lambing 41

The signs to look for when a ewe is starting to lamb is that she might separate herself from the herd, she might stop eating, her udder fills up and her vulva is getting very pink. She will also start pawing, as she is making a nest. She will also start licking her lips and might start making certain noises to start communicate with her lambs, even though they are still inside her.  But obviously some sheep won’t have many of these signs, some have them for days, some give birth quickly,….It all depends on the ewe.

Lambing 38

A ewe in labour

Once the lamb is born the mother will start licking the lamb dry.

Lambing 42

If the lamb struggles with breathing and you might have to put a bit of straw up his/her nostrils to make it sneeze and start breathing properly.

Lambing 43

It is also common to swing the lamb from its back legs to drain the fluid.

Lambing 44

Mothers can be very protective of their very precious offspring!

Lambing 16

Charlotte keep meticulous records of our ewes. We record their number and breed, but also if they had any problem during their last pregnancy and birthing and which tupping group they were in ( e.g. which ram the father is). We record if they ewes has milk and if the different lambs can suckle and if they are male or female.

Lambing 6

Once the lambs are born, the ewes and the lambs are put in a pen where they can bond with each other.  The navels of the lambs get iodined to stop infections and we check if the ewe has milk and the lambs are able to suckle.

Lambing 14

Lambing 13

Our lambing pens where built out of pallets by Tony (Rural Care) and the co-farmers and made such an improvement to last year. The co-farmers even made little blackboards so we could put the vital information about the current ewe and lambs in the pen for the next person coming on shift.

Lambing 7

Once we are sure the mother and lambs are fine and have bonded well, they go into the nursery, where they mix with a small amount of mothers and toddlers. Eventually after a few more days they get up out in the field with the rest of the mother that have given birth.

Lambing 1

Lambing 3

Lambing is a lot about observing your animals and getting to know there normal behaviour as well as checking if everything is going to plan with the mother as well as the lambs.

Lambing 45

Lambing is hard work, emotional, exciting, upsetting, exhilarating, exhausting but most of all it teaches you about life and death and how precious life is !

Many thanks to the Rural Care staff for all the extra hours.  And thank you to Nick Hooper for the photos in this article.











A ewe in labour






Once the lamb is born the mother will start licking the lamb dry.










If the lamb struggles with breathing and you might have to put a bit of straw up his/her nostrils to make it sneeze and start breathing properly.









It is also common to swing the lamb from its back legs to drain the fluid.




















Mothers can be very protective of their very precious offspring!