If the freezing weather continues farmers will be hard-pushed to keep feeding their herds instead of turning them out

The morning began bright and calm, with the woodpecker hammering his heart out in the ash tree above the chicken run. The greater spotted woodpecker is a frequent visitor to my bird tables, but, today, he was laying down a territorial challenge to any rivals with his drumming display. The short staccato blasts echoed across the fields-an incredible noise for a bird about the same size as a blackbird. His cousin, the green woodpecker, feasts on the ants in our lawn on hot summer days, but those feel a long way off.

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By the afternoon, we had a huge hailstorm that turned the ground white with pea-sized balls of ice. The hail knocked some new shoots off my new roses, but was nothing compared with a storm I was caught up in once in Sydney, Australia, where our car was left pock-marked by hailstones the size of tangerines.

The weather means that livestock farmers are still having to feed their herds instead of turning them out to grass. Their predicament, as the costs escalate, is now at crisis point and I fear that many of them will be forced out of business before the green woodpecker dines on our ants.

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