Culm Grassland Restoration
We are working on a number of habitat creation projects, including culm grassland restoration and the creation of wood pastureland. Culm grassland is one of the rarest habitats in the world as it is peculiar to North Devon, where it supports such uncommon species as the marsh fritillary butterfly and narrow-bordered bee hawk moth. Agricultural improvements over the last 100 years have resulted in the disappearance of over 90% of this precious grassland, including on Rowden Farm which as recently as the 1950s was still home to significant areas of culm marshes. After studying old maps, we are now restoring 10 acres of culm grassland in its former location, and are excited to see the impact this will have on the biodiversity of our land.
We also have an additional 6 acres of culm grassland which survived the improvements of the 20th Century. This year, we let it flower for the first time in years and the impact was instantly noticeable. Being a working dairy farm all the culm grassland will be grazed by our cattle to help keep it in the best environmental condition and create different heights in the sward which in turn provides essential micro-climates.
Our wood pasture creation is part of a ‘silvopasture’ trial being carried out with the Farming and Wildlife Advisory Group and scientists from Rothamsted and the Organic Research Centre. We are looking at what benefits silvopasture can bring to soil biology and carbon, biodiversity and animal welfare – all areas that are of great interest to us. We will be keen to share the findings of this trial with you when they are available.
With the help of a local fencing company, we have been working hard to erect thousands of metres of chestnut fencing across our farm. We have replaced old field boundary fences enabling us to safely contain our stock which in turn aids our rotational grazing techniques. This fencing has also been installed to protect the habitats we have created for the wildlife on our farm – helping a wide range of insects, birds, reptiles, mammals and plants to flourish.
Much of our chestnut fencing material comes from a locally grown and managed coppice rotation that encourages good woodland management. Chestnut is one of the most environmentally friendly and long lasting fencing materials and whilst some can be put off by its rather rustic appearance, we are rather fond of its simple and authentic look.
Our Herbal Leys
In his trilogy of farming books Newman Turner describes herbal leys as his ‘fertiliser, merchant, food manufacturer and vet all in one’ and we think this quote sums up these diverse swards wonderfully.
The cows here on our farm are 100% pasture fed, this means that our herbal leys are vital in ensuring the health and productivity of our farm. Our herbal leys contain a range of different plants. This lush mix of grasses, legumes and herbs has many benefits – extended growing seasons, boosted soil fertility, increased biodiversity and also higher mineral content and medicinal advantages for our cows.
Being rich in legume species our leys require no artificial inputs, growing a range of different plants together has been shown to yield up to 50% more than average. Our herbal leys contain many deep rooting varieties and therefore are able to sequester more carbon. Our diverse leys furthermore create habitats and food sources for all sorts of wildlife that roam our land throughout the year. One of the extraordinarily diverse areas of our farm.
Our Oak Trees
We are lucky enough to have some magnificent oak trees on our land and this one has to be one of our favourites.
Did you know that an oak tree supports more life than any other native tree species in the UK? They are a safe host for insects, birds and bats and are also an important food source for mammals large and small as well and being a food plant for purple hairstreak butterflies. Even the fallen leaves help support invertebrates and fungi.
Our network of grass margins (or buffer strips as they are also known) provide wildlife habitat around our fields, ponds and woodlands and also connectivity in our landscape allowing wildlife to move through it. As Winter starts its approach these grass margins provide essential over-wintering habitat for a lot of the wildlife that inhabits our farm.
Ground-nesting birds such as grey partridge, a bird we rear and release here at Rowden, benefit from the haven these grass margins provide as they present a source of food and also safe cover.
Dead Or Alive
Trees, alive and dead, play an essential part in our farm’s healthy and functioning ecosystem. Whilst dead trees may not have the beauty and glory of trees that are alive, there is no doubt they are vital in the habitat they bestow.
This photo shows off one of our favourite lines of trees on our farm, each one important in its own right. Behind the trees you will spot Cawsand Beacon – one of the highest hills on Dartmoor and one that has numerous traces of prehistoric occupation.
Lichens and bryophytes
When there are no leaves on our trees it is the perfect time to best enjoy the lichens and bryophytes on their branches and trunks.
Lichens and bryophytes often form green or grey, powdery or mossy, crusty growths on the stems, branches and trunks of trees and shrubs. Most bryophytes and lichens, because they lack tissues such as roots, obtain their water through direct surface contact with their environment which is why they thrive in our current weather conditions. Amazingly some that are dry and may appear dead will become photosynthetically active, sometimes within minutes, after wetting when moisture is available.
Celebrating our hedgerows
The hedgerows here on our farm are so much more than just boundaries between our fields. As well as providing a natural barrier between our pastures, they provide shelter from the elements to our grazing animals. The hedgerow itself provides a habitat for birds, small mammals, reptiles, amphibians and insects as well as a home for a diverse range of flora to thrive including wildflowers and lichens. As well as the habitat within the hedgerow, hedgerows also act as a wildlife corridor from one habitat to another.
After the Second World War and during the modern agricultural revolution there was a wide scale loss of hedgerows to make way for larger farm machinery. It’s been estimated that hedgerows were removed at a rate of 3000 miles per year at its peak.
Here at the farm we are planting new species rich hedges. Over the last few years we have planted over 1000 metres of native trees that will be managed as hedgerows and are planting another 1000 metres in the next 12 months. There are large sections of our hedges that are completely forageable including: elder, sea buckthorn, crab apple, wild pear, cherry plum, dog rose and damson.
We cut the majority of our hedges every 2 years as we believe this is the most beneficial cutting cycle for wildlife. This allows the trees to flower providing nectar, and berries to develop, providing food for wildlife.