Ad Gefrin | Yeavering

Ad Gefrin museum and distillery in Wooler, opened March 2023. Life in the Northumbrian kingdoms 6th and 7th centuries. The nearby archaeological site of Yeavering. Importance of soil to archaeological insight. Fine example of local heritage and enterprise combined.

One of an occasional series on museums and botanic gardens.

It is always heartening (the editor writes) to find a local museum established and thriving. The Ad Gefrin museum and distillery at Wooler [1] in Northumberland, together with the archaeological site of Yeavering [2] are a fine example of what can be achieved away from the main centres. Yeavering takes its name from the Celtic Gefrin – the Hill of the Goats, so Ad Gefrin is By the Hill of the Goats [3]. The archaeological site lies several miles north of Wooler.

The museum and distillery opened in March 2023. Go through glass doors and immediately the stunning dome of the entrance hall rises above.  It was made in the shape of a whisky barrel. The dome is lined by many small, rectangular pieces of pine, sourced from wind-blown timber, each piece prepared and fixed in place by a local craftsman. 

The Great Hall

The museum aims to entertain and educate on the Anglo-Saxon, Northumbrian dynasty that governed the region in the 6th and 7th centuries. They established Yeavering from their main base on the coast at Bamburgh. By 700, the site had been deserted, its precise location unknown until rediscovered in the mid-1900s.

The museum reproduces a central feature of the Yeavering site – a building called the Great Hall. From the museum’s entrance, a spiral stairway (visible in the photograph above) leads to a door into the replica. Visitors can walk around one half of the hall, its walls covered in tapestries and carvings, some shown on this page. The other half is virtual, viewed through a screen and letting the viewer appreciate the full length and interior design of the building. 

Linger for a few minutes and the virtual half comes alive as people appear, tell stories and sing of the kings and the life at that time. It’s an ingenious way of drawing peope in, making them feel almost as if they were there. 

The museum displays some of the objects found during archaeological digs at Yeavering and models of some of the buildings including the Great Hall and a tiered Grandstand.  

View from the real to the virtual half of the Hall (left) where actors and singers (right) tell stories of the life at the times of the Northumbrian kingdoms.

Yeavering archaeological site

The site was revealed through examination of crop marks on an aerial survey of the region in the dry summer of 1949. It was first excavated  from 1953 to 1962 and the results published 1977 in an authoritative report by Brian Hope-Taylor, available today as a free download [4]. The report and its author have been widely praised [5]. It remains an engaging and impressive read, and not only for archaeologists. Enquirers from any discipline will appreciate the logical approach and the analysis of uncertainty in reaching conclusions from limited data, especially on the structure and functioning of different buildings and enclosures. The report repeatedly stresses the importance of soil to archaeological method (see below).

The site lies on an area of flattish land, known as the whaleback, the northern side descending steeply to the River Glen and the southern rising to the hills of Yeavering Bell. The River Glen joins the River Till which then feeds into the Tweed. Much evidence of occupation and farming since the neolithic have been found in this area. A large Iron Age hill ‘fort’ and many dwellings were built at the top of Yeavering Bell and the lower land around the Rivers Glen, Till and Tweed is dense with pre-historic settlement and signs of farming.

Archaeological studies at the site have continued and were active in summer 2023, but by October the exposed surface had been recovered with soil to protect it over the winter.  

Soil – AgriculturE – food

The main agricultural land use around Yeavering today is grazing for livestock, both sheep and cattle. Grain has been grown in this area. One of the boards in the museum states that rye, barley, wheat and oats have always grown well in the Millfield Basin – an extensive area of fertile land to the east of the Yeavering site. And the crop marks that reveaed the outline of the buildings were first seen when oats covered the land in 1949. 

Of interest to Living Field readers may be the importance of soil condition, both in locating the structures initially and then photographing their exposed outlines. Cropmarks are ‘negative structures’ differing from the surrounding soil in the the type of soil that filled the space when the original structures rotted or were removed [4]. If topsoil fell into the spaces, it would probably have contained more organic matter than the surrounding subsoil, and hence have a greater capacity to hold water.

Plants growing in this deeper, more organic material may absorb and reflect a different amount or a different quality of incoming solar radiation. Especially in a dry year, plants here remain greener and unwithered for longer into the summer.

The excavations also reveal the extent to which human habitation and farming influence the erodability of soil, its movement across and out of the area, leading to variation in depth. ‘Centuries of ploughing’ had eroded topsoil from the crest of the site and repositioned it towards the edges. The archaeologists could even tell whether a sub-soil had been previously cultivated or not by its feel and sound when turned with a trowel [4]. 


Many animal bones and bone-fragments were found at the site. Analysis by ES Higgs and M Jarman [4, 6] showed cattle were by far the predominant livestock rather than sheep, pig or goat. Yet it’s the age when the catttle were killed that tells us something of the pressures on livestock farming at that time, pressures not much different from what they are today. 

Livestock need to be fed through the winter to keep them alive. Living grass may prove insufficient, so the herd is sustained with stored hay or grain. Breeding cows that perpetuate the herd have to be prioritised to ensure they survive. But what of the general cattle if feed is likely to run out.

Higgs and Jarman propose that cattle were killed early in their growth cycle, well before they reached full size. The collection of bones indicate age at death had two peaks – 6-11 months and 24-30 months. The first group, born in late spring and early summer, were killed over the following winter, presumably to leave enough feed for the rest of the herd. The second group were fed through the first winter, then a second, before being killed. The relatively short life-span of the cattle points to the pressure on farming to balance size of the herd, winter feed and the need for food.

Today, overwintering cattle, whether kept indoors or on grass, have their food supplemented by grain or silage, possible with concentrates, sourceable from a range of local and international supply chains. At Yeavering, they had only what they could produce and save from local fields. 

The future

The Yeavering / Ad Gefrin site is now managed by the Gefrin Trust [2]. The following is extracted from their web site – “In 2002 Ad Gefrin, the physical site and the ongoing story, passed into the hands of The Gefrin Trust. Our aim is to preserve, investigate and recount the history and impact of this important site in the north Cheviot hills, from prehistory right up to the latest investigations and finds.” The Trust’s web offers several free downloadable publications on the region’s history and archaeology.

Archaeological studies continue at the site [8].

Sources | Links

[1] Ad Gefrin Museum and distillery, Wooler:

[2] Yeavering archaeological site: The Gefrin Trust describes the continuing excavations  and offers several free downloadable publications on the history and archaeology of the region. See also Canmore – Excavations at Yeavering Bell.

[3] The goats in the name have been around for millenia. They were once farmed, then went feral and now form a wild landrace of the British Primitive Goat. They are declining and under threat of extinction: Northumberland National Park; British Primitive Goat Research Group.

[4] Hope-Taylor, B (1977) Yeavering – an Anglo-British centre of early Northumbria. English Heritage. Report with many figures and plates downloadable at the Archaeology Data Service; and the Gefrin Trust.

[5] More on Hope-Taylor at: Thomas, S (2013) Public Archaeology 12, 101-116; Bamburgh Research Project 2011 The legacy of Dr Brian Hope Taylor

[6] ES Higgs and M Jarman: the report [4] gives no information on the people who analysed the animal bones from Yeavering. Higgs and Jarman were well-known archaeological pioneers and scholars who made major contributions to studies of the past e.g., Higgs, E. S. and Jarman, M. (1975) Palaeoeconomy. In E. S. Higgs and M. Jarman (eds.) Palaeoeconomy, 1-7. Cambridge, Cambridge University Press.

[7] For more on the analysis and meaning of animal bones in archaeology, see this online publication: Baker P, Worley F (2019) Animal Bones and Archaeology – Recovery to Archive. Historic England Handbooks for Archaeology. 

[8] Durham University: Yeavering | A palace in its landscape | Research Agenda 2020.

Mapping the future: land use | climate | food

A Project by SEDA Land and the Huntly Community.

This project – Mapping Land Use, Climate Change and Food – has developed over the last couple of years from an idea into funded reality and now SEDA Land is looking for volunteers to help organise events around Huntly.


The Project will work with the community of Huntly [1], Aberdeenshire, to investigate the impact of climate change and alternative food systems on the local area.

SEDA Land writes: “We will investigate the long-term effects of land-use decisions on climate change and the food chain using a variety of tools over the next three years. This will be a collaboration between the community, artists, scientists and local landowners. We will also involve innovative food producers and farmers.”

All the tools proposed in this project are aimed to help the community understand and visualise a possible alternative and productive ecological landscape that serves the climate, the community and which could lead to innovative new forms of employment in the area.

This proposal addresses three of the recommendations from SEDA’s
“A New Vision for Land Use in Scotland 6 Conversations” published in partnership with the SRUC and the James Hutton Institute in August 2021, in particular the healthy food strategy [2].

SEDA Land is part of the Scottish Ecological Design Association (SEDA).

Advertisement for the Land Mapping project

Why Huntly?

Huntly was chosen because it is a good example of a mid-sized (population of 4,460) highland town, where surrounding farmland is predominantly used for grazing. We will be seeking to dispel the stereotypical view of the Highlands as sheep-grazed uplands, and explore the potential for alternative land uses – introducing the local community and local farmers to the scope for growing food on slopes; seasonal food; foraged food and indoor-grown food. We will also demonstrate that alternative farming brings increased biodiversity, carbon storage and other benefits.

SEDA Land already has strong connections with Huntly Development Trust, The Deveron Project (a local arts group) and The Gordon Schools (local primary and secondary schools). The development trust owns 63 acres of community land at Greenmyres, five miles southwest of the town. This should permit any residents who are inspired by our project to start using the land in a regenerative way for themselves. We have also established links with Beldorney Estate where we are able to run workshops and the arts projects.

“I think it is really helpful to use art to get past the usual narratives in which there is a designated ‘bad actor’ – a ‘villain’ to protest against. I think art can be great at showing our common humanity and showing that the ‘villain’ is not a person or group of people, but certain aspects of human nature, and of course, climate change itself”.

Sophie Cooke, artist


These tools are intended to engage people in new ways of thinking about the land, climate change and their food systems.

An interactive computer game – the digital game is being developed by students at Abertay University in Dundee to highlight the complex interrelatedness of climate change, biodiversity, land use and food sourcing . Primarily aimed at 13-45-year-olds, the game will require players to balance the uses and products of land to the best advantage of the community and the planet, measured in outcomes such as carbon capture, food sovereignty and health and well-being. We believe it is easier for people to visualise the palimpsest of issues involved if these can be presented graphically and innovatively.

Biophysical data collection – The community will seek to define its present and future needs with the help of scientists and artists, addressing issues such as resilience and a “just transition”. Data will be collated about land use and food sourcing both locally and globally – covering soil health, vegetation and climate. New information will be gathered about local food sources and waste management.

Field workshops – Professionals (soil scientists, regenerative farming experts, forestry experts, food entrepreneurs etc) will run workshops with the Huntly community, local farmers, foresters and landowners to develop/complement the ecological themes above. Artists will use creativity and storytelling to communicate ideas between the various stakeholder groups.

Artistic pieces – Two community projects are planned to be run by a visual artist and a poet to produce works of art in the landscape around Huntly relating to the aims of the project and using material from the workshops.


We intend to use maps of all types to make it easier for people to visualise what effect climate change is expected to have on their local area – including in scenarios such as if there is no change to the current farming practices and in the event of bold and imaginative alternatives being adopted. These will include maps showing existing soil types, water, climate etc. along with maps drawn up with the community using local knowledge and drone footage.

Examples of maps and mapping are given on the Living Field editor’s curvedflatlands web pages [3].

Mapping land use: an area (not Huntly) divided into fields and other land parcels by usage – grass for livestock (left), arable crops such as barley and wheat (centre), and the remaining agriculture and  woodland (right). Data from the James Hutton Institute. Original on curvedflatlands web [3].

The above text and image, apart from the maps, are extracted from the full project description available available as a PDF file [4].

For further info or if you want to be involved, contact Gail Halvorsen by email:

Sources | links

[1] Among organisations and people involved: Huntly Development Trust and Deveron Projects.

[2] SEDA Land is a part of the Scottish Ecological Design Association. The 2021 report is available as A New Vision for Land Use in Scotland – 6 Conversations downloadable from Past events and reports.

[3] On the curvedflatlands web at Community Mapping – food climate

[4] The following PDF file contains a description of the project, including those contributing.

Bere barley participatory network

Bere – the barley landrace. Exploring its potential with growers. Forming a Bere network. Visiting sites in July 2023. Shared expertise and experience.

By Lawrie Brown

An exciting new initiative involving volunteer growers across Scotland is using a tricot participatory selection approach [1] with the purpose of understanding and selecting the best Bere varieties for different production systems and locations. We are building a growing network of interested growers, currently 16 in total, who were sent starter packs early in the spring. Each participant received seed for 3 barley types, 2 Beres (with different origins) and 1 control (a modern cultivar) which have been sown this season and observations, samples and measurements are being collected.

Taking the view on our bere barley trip around Scotland (Lawrie Brown)
Edinburgh to Orkney| Hebrides to Aberdeen

In June, we had the tough job of visiting as many of the participants as possible. This involved a road trip across Scotland visiting a range of sites from Edinburgh and Aberdeen to Stirling, Argyll, Oban and the Isles of Coll, Lismore, South Uist and Orkney. This was a fascinating trip as we learned of the various personal motivations and interests for growing Bere barley from bread making to distilling and heritage conservation to feeding cattle. We met some really interesting people along the way who opened their doors to us and it was great to see small pockets of Bere being reintroduced to sites around Scotland. 

The trial sites this year were small (usually plots of 2 x 6 m) as we had a restricted amounts of seed for distribution. However, next year we will be able to supply larger quantities for larger trial areas and more volunteer participants. Growers were free to apply whatever treatments they wished with some applying seaweed and/or manure as fertiliser while others trialled different tillage treatments. Most were grown without any weed control.

Left – on a smallholding near Colintraive, Argyll, this newly cultivated land had been overrun with rushes and bracken. Centre – on the Isle of Lismore where different tillage methods have been trialled. Right – at Dunrobin Castle where bere is grown with wild flowers for traditional whisky making. (Lawrie Brown).
Shared experience | sharing knowledge

We are looking forward to collating all the data at the end of the season so we can see if specific beres prefer particular environments or treatments and the results will be shared with all growers through online groups and/or face-to-face workshops. 

By working together and sharing experiences and information we hope we can all learn something new about the opportunities this ancient grain, Bere barley, can offer Scottish growers. 

Left upper – at Glen Lonan near Oban, plots had a seaweed addition plus a kelp foliar spray. Right upper – at a croft on South Uist, bere sown late but already showing advantage of fertilisation with seaweed. Left lower – enjoying the weather in Isle of Lismore. Right lower – plots near Stirling. (Lawrie Brown)
Join the Bere net?

If you would like to get involved in next year’s trials and join the network or find out more, feel free to contact me on

Lawrie works at the James Hutton Institute as a Research Scientist in the Plant Soil Interactions group of Ecological Sciences. Lawrie’s colleagues Molly Brown and Tim George were also involved in visiting the disperse and remote locations around Scotland.

References | sources | links

[1] ‘Tricot’ is short for Triadic comparison of technology options – “a research methodology that helps farmers to identify the most suitable technologies for the local conditions of their farm .… engages farmers as ‘farmer researchers’ in the testing or validation of new crop varieties and other promising technologies”. To find out more about the Tricot approach, visit the Alliance Bioversity & CIAT site at Tricot Aproach. Guide for large-scale participatory experiments. The 2020 report by van Etten and co-authors can be downloaded there. The Alliance’s wider aims in climate change, biodiversity loss, environmental degradation and malnutrition an be viewed at their home page.

[2] For more about bere on this web site: Bere barley at the Living Field gives a introduction to the plant and crop . Bere country shows areas grown with bere and barley in the first crop census in Scotland, 1854. Bere in Lawson’s Synopsis for the different forms of bere and other old barley varieties trialled by the Lawsons (seedsmen) near Edinburgh in the 1800s. For links to all this web site’s articles on bere, including recipes, see Bere line – rhymes with hairline.

Upper – Lauriston Farm, Edinburgh, the first to be sown back in March 2023, the grain to be supplied to a local bakery. Middle -at Granton Walled Garden, Edinburgh, where the modern cultivar was showing signs of manganese deficiency. Lower – on the Isle of Coll, where the modern cultivar was struggling to survive. (Lawrie Brown)

Ed: thanks to Lawrie for introducing the Bere net – pleased to hear that the article has helped to recruit more growers (11 Oct 2023)

All among the barley

By Russ Clare

Being the first part of an article by singer and musician Russ Clare on a song about grain crops and their importance in the folk tradition.

History of a song

The corpus of rural England’s traditional balladry is admired for its engaging stories from the past still relevant today, and beautiful melodies often with a quirkiness towards time signature and modality.  It’s a treasure-trove for singers.  One such that I love to sing is All among the barley, also commonly known as The Ripe and Bearded Barley:

Come out, it's now September, the Hunters' moon's begun 
And through the wheaten stubble is heard the frequent gun 
The leaves are turning yellow, and fading into red 
While the ripe and bearded barley is hanging down his head 

Chorus: All among the barley, who would not be blythe? When the ripe and bearded barley is smiling on the scythe 

The wheat is like a rich man, he's sleek and well-to-do 
The oats are like the young girls, they're thin and dancing too 
The rye is like a miser, all sulky, lean and small 
While the ripe and bearded barley is the monarch of them all  

The Spring is like a fair maid that does not know her mind  
The Summer is a tyrant of most ungrateful kind 
But the Autumn is an old friend who pleases all she can 
Brings the ripe and bearded barley to gladden the hearts of man 
Autumn hawthorn by Russ Clare

I came across this little folk song gem in 1974 while browsing a poetry anthology in a Nottingham school library. My attention was captured by its portrayal of the changing seasons, setting the scene for a playful imagination of cereal crops and with special praise for barley, the brewers and distillers source of alcohol.  I fondly imagined the song to have had a life in the past among the country people of rural Leicestershire, where I was living at the time.  A likely favourite at harvest homes, those end of harvest celebrations of feasting, drinking, and singing.  While All among the barley deserved a place in my growing repertoire for singing in folk song clubs, in this case no tune was given, merely a credit to Folk Songs of the Upper Thames.  I had been unaware of the collection, and in those pre-internet times further enquiry soon came to a halt.  So the hunt was on for a suitable melody.

The search ended with a dance tune, The Tip Top Polka, a personal ‘ear worm’ from listening to the brass band accompaniment for the Britannia Coconut Dancers on their Easter Saturday procession around Bacup, their home town in Lancashire.  My mind attached All among the barley‘s words to the melody. It seemed a near perfect fit, and I have stuck with it ever-since, giving the song an airing each Autumn. Listen to a recording here.

Barley by Russ Clare

All Among the Barley – a novel by Melissa Harrison

It’s likely I had the song in mind when, in September 2018, I noticed an intriguing newspaper review of All Among the Barley, a novel by Melissa Harrison.  It is set in Suffolk in the 1930s, where local fourteen year old Edie meets Constance, a London writer on a mission (ostensibly) to chronicle the traditions of an isolated rural community challenged by modernity. 

Harrison has garnered much critical acclaim for her evocation of a way of life in decline – the closeness and beauty of nature, more bountiful and diverse than now; age-old patterns of work driven by the seasons; the tension created from clinging to the familiar while recognising the need to embrace innovation.  In a closing scene, following the story’s tragic conclusion, Edie’s grandfather sings to her. She is comforted by his songs, recognising the continuity they represent in the history of her family and home; songs passed down the generations.

In fiction, Edie heard her grandfather sing All Among the Barley.  But the song has a real-life story of its own, about its origin and popularity, and its telling needs first a consideration of the nature of traditional folk song.

Harvest by Russ Clare

The song collectors

We will be forever in debt to Victorian and Edwardian song collectors for their rescue of so much of our traditional folk heritage, seemingly heading for extinction as singers aged and their art succumbed to rural depopulation, urbanisation and popular entertainment in the music halls.   Between 1890 and 1920, Cecil Sharp, Lucy Broadwood, Ralph Vaughan Williams, Frank Kidson, and Percy Grainger, notable among others, wrote down thousands of song lyrics and tunes from country people, travelling widely, often by bicycle, in their search for singers.  Sharp, in particular, was driven by an ideological attempt to use folk song as a resource to establish a National music with an identifiable English style; Vaughan Williams, though less ideological was arguably more successful in that pursuit.  

In his essay, English Folk Song: Some Conclusions (1907), Sharp promoted the idea of anonymous community authorship of songs and their subsequent adaptation as they were passed around and down generations in a purely oral manner.  It is unlikely, however, an oral tradition can survive exclusively alongside written communication – a degree of coexistence is more likely.  

A community’s songs must be either composed from within, learned by listening to other singers or obtained from printed sources: the relative importance of these routes is keenly debated.  Songs on commercially produced broadsides and chapbooks – written by artisan scribes or purloined from other sources – were commonly sold on the street from the 16th century.  They were very popular, for it is a myth, although a popular notion, that illiteracy among the rural working class was widespread before 1700 and beyond.  The work of folk song scholar, Steve Gardham, does support the idea that many songs, if not most, entered the tradition from these written sources.  His analysis of 705 songs found in oral tradition in England between 1840 and 1940 showed 88% had their earliest extant version in some form of urban commercial production (Traditional Song Forum online address September 2020, from 47:50).   It is, however, widely accepted, as Sharp first suggested, an oral process that turns a song from whatever source into a traditional folk song.  Shared in a community by listening and learning, songs have been adapted and shaped by singers’ inherent creative talent and passed on to succeeding generations, thus accounting for the rich lyrical and musical variation found by collectors.

Thresher by Russ Clare

Origins of a song

So what of the origins and traditional status of All Among the Barley?

The earliest record of it is a composition by Elizabeth Stirling, published in 1851 as a four part (SATB) choral arrangement in Novello’s Part Song Book.  Stirling (1819 – 1895), a career church organist and composer who studied at the Royal Academy of Music in London, enigmatically credits the lyrics to A T who has never been identified.  Speculation among music scholars that it might be Alfred Lord Tennyson (1809 – 1892) is not backed by hard evidence, but they were contemporaries and both living in London in the 1840s, so a song writing partnership is not inconceivable.  Moreover, in the opening verses of the The Lady of Shalott (1832), there is some resonance with All Among the Barley‘s lyrics:

On either side the river lie
Long fields of barley and of rye...
Underneath the bearded barley,
The reaper, reaping late and early....

An indication of a common author, or mere coincidence?

Sheaves and pitchfork by Russ Clare

A song spreads far and wide

A judging panel of Novella’s collection awarded 2nd prize to All Among the Barley, and, among Stirling’s various organ compositions and song arrangements, it was, and remains Stirling’s most popular work, for which the sheet music is still available.  It soon became a frequent choice for amateur choirs, as in the inaugural concert of Weymouth Choral Society on February 26th, 1862, and a concert given by Bethlem Hospital (Bedlam) Glee and Madrigal Club on 17 March 1879. 

Writing in English Dance and Song magazine in 1967, Tony Wales cites several sources indicating the song’s popularity in schools well into the 20th Century.  All Among the Barley soon found its way to publishers of songbooks such as  The Fashionable Songbook (Routledge, 1865) and of broadsides across the country, including J Harkness of Preston in (1874) among many. 

Stirling’s song also became popular in the USA; the Library of Congress records an arrangement in three parts for women’s voices (Lee & Walker, Philadelphia, 1871), and a version with a message from the Women’s Temperance Society in Living Waters—A Collection of Popular Temperance Songs, Choruses, Quartets (Peters, J. L., New York, 1874):

All among the Barley, wander you and I 
Tho' we love the smiling Barley, we shun the dreadful Rye
Tho' we love the happy Barley, we shun the dreadful Rye

It was also included in resources for schools, as in The Golden Robin (W.O. Perkins, Boston 1863).

A popular song in print, then, and the work of a musician and, perhaps, a lyricist too, who were some steps removed from its bucolic setting.  Instances of the song in oral tradition are surprisingly sparse, however.  Among a plethora of printed sources, Steve Roud’s eponymous Folk Song Index cites All Among the Barley for nine singers, eight with records made between 1914 and 1974 (a ninth is undated).  So, an enduring circulation among country singers in 20th Century England is suggested, and all evidence is consistent with All Among the Barley entering the tradition from written sources traceable to Sterling’s original score.

Stubble field by Russ Clare

One song collector and one singer deserve more attention

Alfred Williams (1877 – 1930) collected folk songs from the Upper Thames Valley in  Gloucestershire, Wiltshire and Oxfordshire.  In contrast to Sharp and other materially comfortable, middle class collectors, Williams was born into working class poverty – in the village of South Marston, near Swindon. He was a half-time farmhand at eight, full-time by eleven, and a Swindon railway factory worker for 23 years. Williams was, nevertheless, an effective autodidact.  Rising early to work before a factory shift and resuming late into the night, he published several volumes of poetry and social history, drawing on a love for his native Wiltshire countryside, and a commitment to recording the local people’s way of life.  Along the way he found time to learn several languages, including French, Latin, Greek and Sanskrit.  His most enduring work, Life in a Railway Factory documented the drudgery that led to his health break down and reliance on writing for a living. 

Between 1914 and 1916, Williams cycled thousands of miles collecting the words of nearly 800 songs; a selection of some 200 were published as Folk Songs of the Upper Thames in 1923  “The greater part of the work of collecting the songs must be done at night, and winter is the best time, as the men are then free from their labours after tea.” On one such cold, night time journey Williams collected The Ripe and Bearded Barley from Henry Sirman, a farm hand of Stanton Harcourt.  Williams lacked the skills to note down tunes, but the songs’musicality was not his prime concern; he was more interested in the significance of the songs in the lives of his informants.  His own life was tragically short, worn down by poverty and a punishing work schedule.

Autumn beech leaves by Russ Clare

To its considerable surprise and delight, the folk music scene of the 1970s discovered a traditional singer living, and hiding in plain sight, in Norfolk.  Walter Pardon (1914 –  1996), a carpenter, passed his entire life, apart from four years war service at Aldershot, in the village of Knapton. He had a repertoire of around 150 songs, mainly learned by listening to family members.  As a younger man there were few opportunities for social singing or public performance so he sang for his own entertainment, continuing in the isolation of the family cottage long after both parents had died.  

Walter’s cousin Roger Dixon, a history teacher, aware of the interest Walter’s singing would arouse, recorded 20 songs and passed the tape to professional folk singer, Peter Bellmay.  A late flowering singing career followed for Walter, who performed at clubs and festivals, recorded several CD albums, and sang in Washington at the USA’s 1976 bi-centennial celebrations, before retirement at 75 in 1989.  His repertoire is notable for having several exclusive or rarely collected songs, including All Among the Barley.  Sung to an approximation of Stirling’s tune, it can be found on Walter’s CD Put a bit of Powder on it, Father and in The British Library Sound Archive.

All Among the Barley has retained its appeal.  In the 1980s Cheltenham singers, Mike and Jackie Gabriel, had the lyrics but no tune so composed their own.  Robust, invitingly singable, and very much in an English traditional style, it has become, almost, the exclusive melody of choice for today’s singers.  Several interpretations can be found on Youtube and variation in words and music shows the ‘folk process’ still at work.

The second part of Russ Clare’s article Social and environmental changes during the life of a song will be published later on this web site.


Autumn beech trees by Russ Clare

Ed: many thanks to Russ for this contribution on the enduring presence of grain crops in folk traditions.

Rice grain giant sculpture

Rice sculpture at Singapore Changi by artist Eng Tow. Rice the feeder of millions. Photographs of rice fields in Laos and Bangladesh. Hanging gardens and waterfall. Bringing plants to people.

Grains of Thought (2015) is the name. Huge grains of rice, magnified from reality many times, made from acrylic and carbon fibre by the artist Eng Tow [1]. They were transferred in 2019 to the South Gateway Garden at Changi Airport from an exhibition at the Asian Civilisations Museum in Singapore [2].

These massive grains sit and hang among moist tropical vegetation inside the South Gateway precinct. All around, people were eating rice at the food stalls and restaurants.

Rice was domesticated in Asia. The climate suits it. Most rice is still grown in Asia. Over three-quarters of the global production comes from China, India, Bangladesh, Indonesia and Vietnam (Fig. 1). Rice is also grown in smaller quantities more widely, for example in the USA, south America, north Africa and southern Europe. 

Fig. 1 Distribution of global rice production among countries, mainly in Asia: drawn from statistics of the Food and Agriculture Organisation of the United Nations.

In typical systems of cultivation in Asia, rice is grown in flat fields or terraces, surrounded by bunds made of heaped and compacted soil. The high rainfall of monsoon or wet seasons is retained within the fields or else lifted or pumped into fields from nearby waterways. The rice needs to be submerged in water but it is also better to retain the water and let it evaporate slowly, rather than have it flow downhill taking soil with it. The water is skilfully channelled between fields, sometime over extensive hillslopes and valley bottoms.

Fig 2 Rice fields in Bangladesh: upper, during soil cultivation before planting, hanging fronds are from coconut palms on a roadside; lower left, one field planted centre; lower right, all fields planted with young rice in lines.

Two examples of this ’paddy’ system are shown on this page, from Bangladesh and Laos. Once the soil has been cultivated, the rice is planted out into fields from ‘nurseries’. The lower parts of the stems are submerged for most of the plant’s life. The water has usually evaporated or else drained before harvest.

Not all rice is grown in this way: some varieties of the crop are cultivated on dry land and others in deep water where the stems extend upwards as seasonal flooding increases the distance from soil to water-surface. 

Fig. 3 Rice fields in Laos: upper, foreground soil still being cultivated, young rice planted behind; lower left, ‘nursery’ from which the plants are moved to their final position in fields, the high bund in middle distance separates fields at different levels; lower right, young rice planted.

Global reach

In Scotland, the main grains since agriculture arrived here have been oats and barley, also wheat and rye. All were domesticated just to the east of the Mediterranean and were moved across Europe to reach Scotland >5000 years ago. Rice has been imported into north-west Europe for many centuries, but it was never a main source of carbohydrate … that is, not until the last 50 years or so [3]. In the 1950s, it was eaten in the home as a sweet milk pudding or added to soups and broths. Imports began to rise in the 1970s and by the 1990s its consumption had increased more than five-fold, making it one of the UK’s major sources of cereal carb [4].

The rice we eat is grown mainly in India, Pakistan, Thailand, USA and Cambodia. Various forms of the grain are now readily available in the UK for home cooking and as meals in carry-outs and restaurants. For example, basmati is the typical rice in Indian cooking while arborio is rounder and softer when cooked, ideal in risottos.

Basmati and arborio grains are shown in the photographs below as most Europeans see them – straight out of the packet. The grains have had their protective coverings removed in processing mills. Two other grains are shown with them: local oats, the protective cover still attached, and emmer wheat for which each grain was taken out of its covering by hand. The emmer and oat were grown in the Living field garden – we tried rice a few years ago. It grew leaves and stems, but did not make it to seeding.

Fig. 4 Grains of arborio rice (top left), oats (upper r), emmer wheat (lower r) and basmati rice (lower l). Grains are 4-5 mm long.

The grains of these four crops differ relatively little in size (although the basmati is thinner than the others). Along with most other cereal grains they are able to survive when dried for long periods in storage. The storability of cereal grains was one of the main factors that encouraged humans to grow seasonal crops and settle in one place. The grains have an optimal geometry for growth on the plant, harvesting, storage, transportation, milling and cooking.

Grains of thought?

Most people who eat a meal of cereals – bread, porridge, pasta, paella, roti, ngaiwa – probably do not see it as once being a collection of individuals on a mother plant. Yet each grain of a cereal originates from a single act of reproduction and lives life encased in its own protective sheath. The yield of a cereal crop is determined by the number of individual grains on a cereal head or spike. The balance between number and size of individuals is influenced by field management and in turn influences the nutritional quality and economic worth of the harvest.

The grains are now unseen in most cereal products. Maybe these giant sculptures can remind us of what most people depend on for life.     

The Grains of Thought sculptures are sited within a major complex at the airport in which thousands of tropical plants are nurtured. The centrepiece is the waterfall or ‘rain vortex’, photographs below [5].

Sources | links

[1] Eng Tow:

[2] Asian Civilisations Museum – For a previous article featuring ACM on the Living Field – The Tang Shipwreck and Orkney Simmens

[3] Food of the Scots. Volume 5 in A Compendium of Scottish Ethnology. Author: Alexander Fenton. Publisher: John Donald, in association with The European Ethnological Research Centre.

[4] The Rice Association: Rice in the UK.

[5] Waterfall: wikipedia entry

Contact: and

[Last update with some changes to text: 3-4 July 2023]

BSBI Plant Atlas 2020

Mapping changes in the distribution of the British and Irish Flora.

Published by the Botanical Society of Britain and Ireland (BSBI) in 2023

Notes from the Online launch 9 March 2023. Web:

Those of us involved in field survey have long valued the plant atlas produced by the Botanical Society of Britain and Ireland (BSBI). The two previous publications, in 1962 and 2002, have been invaluable, and so will the latest version published earlier this year – Plant Atlas 2020.

It took 20 years of field recording and three years of analysis. Thousands of botanists and it’s true plants are generally overlooked by those who manage the countryside., often under the guidance of the county recorders who know their area intimately. In all, they assembled 30 million records, of 3495 species. 

Covers of the two volumes of Plant Atlas 2020, accessible online and available to buy as hard copy.

Each species is given a general description, then its altitudinal range, phenology (its sequence of development – vegetative, reproductive, seeding), time trend and a distribution map in 10 km squares over the country.

Some What of the changes? There’s been some gain – but the main conclusions are continued loss of plant biodiversity. For estimate of changes since the 1950s, plants are placed into one of three classes 

  • native species – of which  53% have declined;
  • archaeophytes, that have been here a few hundred years – of which 62% have declined;
  • neophytes or recent introductions – of which 58% have increased.

This summary is no surprise to those who have surveyed plants in managed ecosystems across the country. 

Why natives and archaeophytes have declined – loss of habitat, destruction or modification of habitat through intensified management, fertiliser application, pollution, erosion, run-off, drainage, and overgrazing; loss of small farms. Not all is bad – some species such as cornflower have increased in occurrence due to the sowing of wildflower seed mixes. But the overall position is that Britain continues to lose plant species and many of the losses are in arable and grass farmland.

Some of the recent plant introductions are doing the opposite – taking advantage of disturbance. Sitka spruce is one – introduced as a forest plantation tree across the country but now spreading through self seeding. It’s all over the place – on the shores of pristine lochs, in marshland, moving over the moor. 

Climate is having an effect. ‘Winners’ are southern species that can take advantage of the warming. ‘Losers’ are montane species suffering due to reduced snow cover and dryness. 

What can be done? The online launch gave five key actions: 

  • Protect the best sites.
  • Allow more space for nature – reduce the pressure.
  • Ensure plants are taken account of in land used decisions.
  • Continued research and monitoring
  • Raise the awareness of plants – skills in identifying, understanding and managing.

And it’s true plants are generally overlooked by those who manage the countryside. One of the reasons for starting the Living Field project back in 2001 was to raise awareness of lowland plants and their many contributions  to ecosystem function and their uses to people through the ages. We’ll continue …. but the pressures against plant diversity are not waning. 

But we look back, before Plant Atlas 2020 …..

1962 Atlas by Perring and Walters

On joining SCRI, one of the two founder Institutes of the James Hutton, in the 1990s, I found that much of the work was based in crop breeding (potato, soft fruit and barley) and pests (viruses, fungi and  insects). Weeds as pests were given less emphasis and money, but arable plants other than crops were still mostly treated as pests. Yet nevertheless, the Atlas of the British Flora published by the BSBI in1962, edited by FH Perring and SM Walters was in the library, originally in the library of the Scottish Plant Breeding Station, which was then at Pentlanfield, Midlothian, before it moved to become part of SCRI in Dundee. The book was bought in July 1962 and cost £3/10. Below is an image of the cover on one of the open pages to show the distribution maps for each species.

2002 New Atlas of the British and Irish Flora

Gradually during the 1990s the notion was debated that weeds, or as some of us would prefer ….. arable plants, had attributes that were positive for the farmed ecosystem, notably the provision of plant food for beneficial and iconic invertebrates such as detritus-feeders, beetles, spiders and pollinators. In the late 1990s, the research grouping that was to become Agroecology at the James Hutton, began to win research contracts in vegetation dynamics, geneflow and ecological risk assessment. Over several years, the group sampled crops and wild plants in fields from the south coast of England to Ross and Cromarty In Scotland. 

Fortunately for us, the revised version of the 1962 Atlas, named The New Atlas of the British and Irish Flora, edited by CD Preston, DA Pearman and TD Dines, was published in 2002. The cover – in our case very worn from much usage of the book – is shown on a page of maps for several species. The pages chosen showed distributions of the hemp nettles, species of the genus Galeopsis, that occurred widely within cropped fields in the east of Scotland at that time, causing little problem as a weed but providing a base for the invertebrate food web. 


The making of these Flora takes a massive effort from the main editors and organisers but also the thousands of volunteer botanists who survey and identify the plants throughout the country. The Living Field has already used the online edition to answer questions from our correspondents. It’s a fantastic resource ….. there to use.


The Botanical Society of British and Ireland (BSBI) web site –

BSBI Introductory page to Plant Atlas 2020 –

The 2022 Atlas accessible online –

Summary Report of the 2020 Atlas.

Bread Festival – St Monan’s

At the Bowhouse, St Monan’s Fife – the first Scottish Real Bread Festival – 25 February 2023 hosted by Scotland the Bread. The Living Field went to see what was happening.

Well … you can’t grow bread wheats in Scotland they say. But on this day Scotland the Bread [1] hosted the first Scottish Real Bread Festival [2]. The venue – at the Bowhouse, St Monans, Fife [3] – was packed with people seeing, selling, eating and debating flour and bread grown, milled and baked locally.

There were presentations and discussion through of the day, people sitting on hay bales, listening and asking.

Earlier, bakers had entered their loaves in the bread contest. A panel of experts had made a decision and the winners were announced and awarded. The loaves were all laid out on a table and given away at the end of the day.

At the first Scottish Real Bread Festival, Bowhouse at St Monans Fife – baked bread loaves and locally grown wheat.

Scotland the Bread‘s own flour, milled from local wheat landraces, was on sale ….. and went like hot loaves.Some sheaves of bread-wheat landraces were on display (lower images above), grown locally in the soil and climate of Fife. The plants are much taller than modern wheat varieties – due to the length of stems or ‘straw’ [4].

Long straw was once valued as a base for rope and string or used regularly in craftwork to make home decorations. Something Corny [5], based in Aberdeenshire, gave demonstrations and workshops through the day. The photos below shows some of their raw materials and a finished wall hanging.

Landrace wheat (left), a bundle of stems (lower) and an example of craftwork by Something Corny at the first Scottish Real Bread Festival.

Barley is rarely used in bread today but was once widely eaten in Scotland as a flatbread or bannock. Its use in food has been promoted by the Living Field for some years [6]. It’s a nutritious corn. And people from the Rowett Institute, Aberdeen were present to talk about their research on barley landraces in human health and nutrition [7].

One of their posters described how a variety of barley from Tibet – a black barley – was being hybridised with other varieties and landraces at the James Hutton Institute. Tibet and its hybrids are high in fibre and miconutrients, and also in beta-glucan which may lower cholesterol.

Tibet barley in the Living Field Garden: ears are yellow-green at first then darken at maturity; and as in most landraces and unimproved varieties, Tibet’s ears do not mature all at the same time.

The organisers and hosts put on a great show, well attended and well appreciated. Here’s hoping that milling and baking with local wheat grows and thrives.

Links and further information

[1] Scotland the Bread: local grains, cereal landraces, milling for flour, baking, community, food, campaigning for healthy, nutritious bread.

[2] Scottish Real Bread Festival: see Sustain at Scottish Real Bread Festival and Championship 2023 and Real Bread Week.

[3] BowhouseConnecting you to your local produce – a venue in St Monans Fife.

[4] The heights of landrace wheat and modern wheat are compared on the Living Field’s Cereals page. Ed: it looks like the long stems in the photograph above were tied with old-style, orange baler twine – brings back memories of sunburn and sore backs from lifting those small rectangular bales before the big round ones became standard!

[5] Elaine Lindsay practices and teaches straw work at Something Corny based at Inverurie, Aberdeenshire – check the online workshops.

[6] The Living Field has long promoted the use of flour from locally grown grains – mainly oats and barley – in flatbreads and other foods: see Bere bannocks, Bere scones, Bere battered fish, Peasemeal Beremeal Oatmeal, for bread made with barley and insects Bere and Cricket, and for further links to barley landraces The Bere line – rhymes with hairline.

[7] The Rowett Institute Aberdeen: Black barley study. The Rowett have also produced a booklet on recipes made with oats and barley.

Contact for this page: or

Information sources at SEDA Land

Recently, SEDA Land [1] published its Land Resources pages for all to see and use. They can be found on the SEDA Land web site at

This is a brief introduction to the pages and why they are needed. They were constructed earlier in the year and went online in December 2022 [2]. You can see what the Intro page looks like from the screenshot below.

Land Resources page on the SEDA Land web site

They are designed as a repository and source of information on land-related matters in Scotland. They will be updated as new information becomes available.

Six Cogs

The topic areas are written in the middle of the SIX cogs in the image below – Housing, Biodiversity, Food and Farming, Access and Landownership, Rural Economy and Energy. Most likely the structure is not static but will evolve – funding permitted.

Hidden data

One of the great difficulties facing researchers and investigators who do not belong to an organisation such as university or research institute is that most of the scientific papers produced in the world are not easily accessible.

Universities and Institutes pay large subscriptions each year to the major publishers of science and technology. This sub allows access by their employees to published papers, reports and journals. Others can only get access by paying a fee per paper and if you want to look at tens or hundreds of papers, it mounts up to sums most can’t afford.

It’s not easy therefore for members of the public or researchers working independently to keep up with what’s happening.

But it’s not all hidden. There’s an increasing desire by science to publish open-access papers, where a fee is paid by the researchers on publication and the paper then becomes accessible to anyone. There is also a growing bank of summaries, policy papers and major scientific and technical reports that are available to the web free of charge. The UN and EC organisations for example have been very good at this open-source provision, but so have many organsations in Scotland. In fact, many of the links to reports and data on the Living Field site are to this global bank of open data.

But what’s there to get?

Anyone wanting to research a topic is faced with knowing where to begin. There is so much information and data out there that the problem now is knowing what is open-access and what is best for a first read. There is also misinformation. Some guidance may be needed therefore – pointers to sources that are independent, critical and whose work can be challenged and verified. This is where SEDA Land’s Resources web pages will contribute.

Click the Housing cog on the SEDA resources web and move to this page. It begins with a brief description, Key Policies and some ideas for the Future. Click the image to go to the web site.

On the SEDA Land web site, clicking a cog leads to a separate web page for that topic. The pages give links to relevant open-access documents and also display artwork, music and poetry. The image above shows the upper part of the page on Housing, that below, the whole page on Access and Ownership.

Page on Access and Ownership at SEDA Land’s Resources web. Click the image to go to the web site.

SEDA Land say this is just the beginning.


[1] SEDA Land is part of the Scottish Ecological Design Association. More on the Living field web at: Land Conversations 2021.

[2] The SEDA Land Resources web pages were constructed by Eleanor Fraser and Rosanna Harvey-Crawford with funding from Patrick and Linda Flockhart.

The Living Field Editor’s curvedflatlands web analyses some of the issues raised in the Land Conversations: First Ideas, Land Conversations 2021, Matrix and decision tree, Carbon Tax. Thanks to the SEDA Land initiators for the invitation in 2020 to assist in scoping the Conversations.

Copernicus remote sensing – 2022 drought

Copernicus is a scientific Programme of the European Union – “Europe’s eyes on earth – looking at our planet and its environment for the benefit of Europe’s citizens” [1].

The Living Field frequently used data and images from the Copernicus Programme to inform and illustrate various articles on weather and climate in 2021 and 2022. Their coverage of major climatic and land-based events throughout the world gives some perspective and wider context to what is happening in Scotland’s arable-grass.

Image of the Day

Copernicus publishes an Image of the Day, which usually shows an environmental state or change of state in a defined region of the world – a serious flood, a melting glacier, wildfires, drought and high temperature, for example. If you sign up for it – Copernicus emails its images with a brief description and a link to their web site which holds the full resolution image and description [1].

The images provided by the Copernicus remote sensing satellites are free to view and download and to use with reference to the original source. Several of the images have been uploaded to the Living Field web to illustrate articles on weather and climatic shifts.

Here we show four examples of the Copernicus Image of the Day. They are among many that document the severe heat and drought affecting vast tracts of the earth in 2021. Text in inverted commas is taken directly from the Copernicus web site. 

Land Surface Temperature – Greece and Turkey

European Union, Copernicus Sentinel-3 imagery: Heatwave in Greece and Western Republic of Türkiye. Image of the Day 3 August 2021

The image, the first of the pair above, was created from measurements by radiometer on one of the Copernicus Sentinel-3 satellites on 2 August 2021. Summer temperature was extreme in Greece and western Türkiye – air temperature of 42°C at noon in Peléponissos and further south on the island of Crete; 46.3°C in Makrakomi, Greece; and 44°C along the coast of Türkiye. In hot dry conditions, soil temperature is usually higher than air temperature. The map shows soil temperature surpassing 53°C in some areas.  The original image can be found here

Melting of ice cap in Iceland

European Union, Copernicus Sentinel-2 imagery: Massive melting of the ice cap in Iceland. Image of the Day 30 August 2021.

The three images (example 2) “acquired by the Copernicus Sentinel-2 satellites on 16, 24 and 28 August provide evidence of the massive melting of Iceland’s ice sheets following the heatwave that has recently affected the island.“ The images show the Þrándarjökull glacier before, during and after the summer heatwave revealing a visible “shift from a situation of partial snow cover on the top of the ice sheet (on 16 August) to complete exposure of the older ice layers (on 28 August). Original here

Carbon monoxide (CO) in Sakha following forest fires

European Union, Copernicus Sentinel-5P imagery: Carbon monoxide generated by the wildfires in Sakha Republic (Russia). Image of the Day 1 August 2021

In summer 2021, Siberia experienced a severe fire season, “almost 500,000 km2 burnt by the end of July 2021. As a result of the fires, CO (a potent greenhouse gas) has reached values of 0.15 mol/m2, nearly twice as high as those recorded in 2020″. This image (example 3) shows the CO concentration in the Sakha Republic retrieved from data collected on 1 August. “The TROPOspheric Monitoring Instrument (TROPOMI) onboard the Copernicus Sentinel-5P satellite allows CO levels to be measured at an unprecedented level of detail on a global scale.” Original here.

Snow deficit on the Andes mountain range South America

European Union, Copernicus Sentinel-3 imagery: Snow cover deficit of Andes. Image of the Day 2 August 2021

In the winter of 2021, the Andes was affected by a severe drought. The reduction of snowfall (example 4) on both the Chilean and Argentinean sides of the range was made visible by data from by one of the Copernicus Sentinel-3 satellites. The images show snow cover on 27 July 2020 and the marked reduction visible one year later, 29 July 2021. Original here.

Past images?

The Copernicus web site holds a bank of past images. To see them, go to Image of the Day [1], scroll down a little and click the current Image, then click View Gallery and the images are provided in date order for download at high res.

Further analysis combining satellite and ground data

Satellite imagery provides a snapshot of the earth’s condition depending on the sensors deployed at the time, but the data in the images can be combined with other spatial information to estimate various threats or risks, to agriculture, wildlife and water supply, for example.

The advance of severe drought in Europe during summer 2022 was followed by such analysis. The Sentinel 2 and 3 satellites recorded change in the colour and cover of vegetation, as in the examples above for the Netherlands and France, but change in vegetation by itself does not allow definition of the cause. Similarly, below-average rainfall for some weeks or months does not necessarily mean that vegetation will be suffering from drought.

The assessment of drought by combining several measurements and models is carried out by one arm of Copernicus – the European Drought Observatory, EDO [2, 3]. First, data on rainfall submitted by national met. organisations are analysed in relation to long term averages. If rainfall drops below a certain limit, a ‘Watch’ level is issued. Second, a model of water use and movement (a hydrological model) estimates the status of water stores in the soil and surface waters. If these fall below a defined limit then an area comes under ‘Warning’ status. Third, the state of vegetation in terms of its capacity to photosynthesise (take in carbon dioxide from the air to make plant matter) is assessed through fAPAR (the fraction of Absorbed Photosynthetically Active Radiation). The measure of fAPAR is provided by sensors on the European Space Agency’s ENVISAT. If the rainfall, soil water and fAPAR measures are all outside set limits, then EDO classes the situation as ALERT.

The three indicators have to be aligned with each other, a process that involves estimating each on a spatial grid (5 km side). It’s a highly complex process that depends on cooperation across many agencies.

Examples are shown in the set of three images above. The upper one, for the period 1-10 July (Image of the Day for 27 July) showed drought building due to the low rainfall in spring and summer. Much of Europe was in Warning (orange) while several areas were already in the most severe category (Alert, red). The arable-grass of east and central Scotland, though not visible on. the map, was in Watch (green) or Warning .

A month later, 1-10 August, lower left (Image of the Day for 24 August), large areas were in Alert or Warning condition – while most of lowland Scotland was in Warning. Ten days later (lower right, Image of the Day for 8 September), drought had become very severe across large tracts of land, notably in western France..

The value of such analyses by EDO and Copernicus more generally is that they offer a broad picture that helps place your own area in context. Assessing drought across a wide region such as Europe enables forecasting and planning on a large scale, specially important where rivers cross national boundaries and food supply depends on agricultural production in other countries.

Sources | Links

[1] EU Copernicus, main web site: Copernicus Image of the Day – view the images and sign up.

[2] European Drought Observatory (EDO) an arm of the Copernicus Emergency Management Service: main web site with links to methods, reports and current status. An EDO Indicator Factsheet gives an accessible summary of the Combined Drought Indicator and its three components. Full citation: European Drought Observatory, EDO (2020): EDO Combined Drought Indicator (CDI) (version 1.4.0). European Commission, Joint Research Centre (JRC) [Dataset] PID:

[3] Finer detail of the Combined Drought Indicator is given in a scientific paper: Sepulcre-Canto G, Horion A, Singleton A, Carrao H, Vogt J (2012) Development of a combined drought indicator to detect agricultural drought in Europe. Natural Hazards Earth System Science 12, 3519-3531, doi:10.5194/nhess-12-3519-2012.

[4] Drought in Europe reports from the EU’s Global Drought Observatory. Here is the one for July 2022. Contains many maps of land and met. conditions for the period in question.

Ed: The Living Field acknowledges with thanks the free services provided by EU Copernicus.

Last update: minor edits, 21 Jan 2023.

How dry was season 2022

Update on a previous post comparing spring and summer rainfall in dry years in east Scotland. By end August, 2022 was similar to other dry years but had fewer days without rain and some ‘wetter’ days with >10 mm. Conditions much worse in most of Europe where some annual crops suffered 20% loss.

In summer 2022, most of Europe experienced exceptionally low rainfall. The Global Drought Observatory [1] reported some areas were already suffering in spring – for example, parts of south-eastern France, northern Italy, Hungary and Romania. By late summer, much of Europe, including some areas in southeast England, baked in severe heat and drought (Fig. 1). Conditions in east Scotland was less severe, but still very dry …. but how dry?

Fig. 1 From Drought in Europe August 2022 – Global Drought Observatory (GDO) Analytical Report, EU Copernicus Emergency Management Service [1]. Colours show the Combined Drought Indicator derived from several factors including weather, soil water and vegetation affected.

Summer 2022 in the croplands

The croplands here experienced one of the drier years of recent decades, but a previous Living Field post [2] showed that 2022 up to the end of July was no drier than other recent dry years such as 1955, 1976, 1984, 1995, 2003 and 2018.

When the August records [3] are added, the position is much the same. The graph, Fig. 2, giving cumulative rainfall after 1 March, shows the years differ in cumulative rain mostly before the summer solstice (21 June) after which cumulative totals were similar. Spring and summer 2022 had similar rainfall to 2018, for example, and slightly more than 1976 and 1984. Some further rain in August raised the total to close to that for 2018 and a little above the figures for 1976 and 1984.

Fig. 2 Cumulative rainfall for the Met Office region East Scotland for 2022 compared to other dry years 1976, 1984 and 2018. Vertical lines show the spring equinox (21 March), the summer solstice (21 June) and two cross-quarter days (XQ2 in early May, XQ3 early August). Original data: Alexander and Jones [3].

Dry summers typically have many days with no rain or just a little rain. From analysis of regional data [3], 65-70% of days between 1 March and 31 August had < 1 mm rainfall in 1955, 1976, 1984, 1995, 2003, 2018 and 2022.

However, the distribution of rain in summer 2022 made it a little less dry than the other years. Only 20% of days had no rain. The other years had more, up to near 40% in 1955 and 1984. Also 2022 had several days with more than 10 mm of rain (Fig. 2).

Fig. 2 Daily rainfall from 1 March to 31 August [3] in 2022 compared to 1976. All days in 1976 and all but 4 in 2022 had < 10 mm rainfall. Totals for the four days in 2022 are indicated. The vertical dashed line is at the summer solstice to allow reference to Fig. 1.

Did it affect crops and grass?

Well yes ….. but the links between rainfall and the yield of crops and grass depend on many other factors. Europe as a whole has been badly affected by lack of rain – but the continent covers such as range of climates, catchments, crops and pastures that no single conclusion can be applied to all.

The latest Bulletin on climate and crops from the Joint Research Centre [4] reports that some but not all crops have been reduced by drought. The yields of several major crops including grain maize, soybean and sunflower were reduced by 15-20% of the recent average, whereas yield of wheat went the other way – slightly greater than average. [Ed: some perennial crops may be more badly affected than grain crops – more on this in a later post]. 

Pastures (on which livestock graze) have been losing ground cover over the summer due to drought but are now recovering in many areas. However, not all pastures have had yield reduced by drought. For example, a higher than average rain in Ireland prevented drought, but the associated cloud cover reduced solar income to the point where it limited the growth of grass.

Nearer home?

In most years, the soil is ‘full’ of water in March. Crops and pasture use that water as they grow, but – again in most years – the water depleted is repeatedly replenished by rain. In dry years, the store is not fully replenished and goes into deficit until the rain returns in autumn.

On days with little rain (e.g. < 2 mm), the water might just wet the foliage and soil surface before evaporating directly back to the atmosphere, so it does not replenish the store.

That’s why occasional days of higher rainfall may make a difference – they replenish the store. The graph for East Scotland in 2022 (Fig. 2) shows several days having 10-20 mm of rain, much of which would have penetrated the soil and provided the crops with a few more days of transpiration, and hence growth.

Was yield of the main crops here reduced by drought in 2022? It’s not possible to be certain without more computation based on crop cover, soil type and evaporative demand, but the provisional data from England [5] – there’s none yet for Scotland – show higher than average yield of cereals, consistent with the European JRC data cited above.

It will be instructive for future prediction of drought effects to work out how this increase in yield came about. Dry summers usually have several negative effects on growth of crops and pastures: high temperature shortens the period of growth; dryness of the soil and air reduces the rate of growth. But they can have positive effects – high temperature also allows crops to mature without loss due to wetting of the grain; and high solar income can increase the rate of growth.

If the provisional harvest data are correct, then – unexpectedly and contrary to the 1976 dry year – the positive effects outweighed the negatives.

There will be a further update when the figures for Scotland are published … but considering variation in rainfall over the past 80 years, the greater losses of agricultural output have been due to too much rather than too little rain.

Sources | Links

[1] Drought in Europe August 2022. Analytical report by the EC Global Drought Observatory, web link:

Toreti, A., Bavera, D., Acosta Navarro, J., Cammalleri, C., de Jager, A., Di Ciollo, C., Hrast Essenfelder, A., Maetens, W., Magni, D., Masante, D., Mazzeschi, M., Niemeyer, S., Spinoni, J., Drought in Europe August 2022, Publications Office of the European Union, doi:10.2760/264241

[2] On the Living Field web: 2022 Summer Drought

[3] Rainfall data used in Fig. 1 and Fig. 2 are from Met Office Hadley Centre UK Precipitation. Ref: Alexander LV, Jones PD. 2001. Updated precipitation series for the UK and discussion of recent extremes. Atmospheric Science Letters 1, doi:10.1006/asle.2001.0025. These figures are averages acrosss a region: there will be variation betwen local sites – some drier, others less so.

[4] Crop Monitoring in Europe October 2022. From the JRC MARS Bulletin (where JRC = Joint Research Centre of the EU, and MARS = Monitoring Agricultural Resources). One of a series of regular bulletins on climate and agriculture in Europe. Web link –

Baruth, B., Bassu, S., Ben Aoun, W., Biavetti, I., Bratu, M., Cerrani, I., Chemin, Y., Claverie, M., De Palma, P., Fumagalli, D., Manfron, G., Morel, J., Nisini Scacchiafichi, L., Panarello, L., Ronchetti, G., Seguini, L., Tarnavsky, E., Van Den Berg, M., Zajac, Z., Zucchini, A. and Rossi, M., JRC MARS Bulletin – Crop monitoring in Europe – October 2022 Vol. 30 No 10, Van Den Berg, M., Niemeyer, S. and Van Der Velde, M. editor(s), Publications Office of the European Union: doi:10.2760/23690.

[5] Provisional harvest figures for England, published 10 October 2022: Provisional cereal and oilseed production estimates.

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[Ed: article liable to editing ... up to 30 Nov 2022]