Another important part of our approach to farming is the ecological impact. Through the decisions we make we have the opportunity to positively influence biodiversity. All of our land is part of the Natural England environmental stewardship programme with the woodland and one field, which we call the Meadow, being managed under the higher level scheme. This aims to restore species-rich upland hay meadow by allowing time for a whole variety of grasses and wildflowers to grow and set seed before any mowing occurs. Our fifteen acres of woodland are part of a regeneration programme with newer silver birch and mountain ash growing well amongst the mature oaks, beeches and sycamores.
This work and management approach is paying off and in summer the Meadow is awash with hundreds of common spotted and northern marsh orchids amongst many other wildflower species. Brown hares are a common sight racing along the edge of fields and hedgehogs have taken up residency under the stacks of straw in the lambing shed. Declining farmland birds like the curlew and skylark breed here and the rich rodent population in the thicker grass along field margins provides food for a breeding pair of kestrels and tawny owls.
Since moving in we have planted over 600 trees to create around 80 metres of new hedgerow, providing habitat, shelter and food for a range of wildlife. The hedge is a mixture of native British species including alder, hazel, dog rose, elder, wild cherry, hawthorn, guelder rose, blackthorn, willow and field maple. By mulching the strip with straw and muck from the animals we have kept competition from grass, nettles and docks down helping the trees get established. Planting the hedge meant an investment in extra fencing - otherwise the sheep would eat the lot - and time to plant each sapling individually by hand over a few freezing days in February.
With the Government announcement of a new agricultural plan and a shift towards a programme of environmental land management we are keenly awaiting further details to see if we will be able to use the opportunity to expand our hedgerows even further.
At the junction of three of our fields is a small ruined outbarn. There are various stories about its previous use but it seems to have been connected with the old sandstone quarry and either housed the office or provided stables for the ponies that pulled out the carts of stone.
Adjacent to this were the rusting remains of an old sheep handling system which was inches deep in moss and overgrown vegetation when we arrived. A longer term plan is to restore this building into a useful shelter but we have made a start by renovating the handling system. This has been turned into a practical tool that really helps us manage our flock.
New gathering pens build around the system
Shedding gate fitted at the end of the race
First sheep through the new race
There are numerous old swallows' nests stuck to the beams in our various outbuildings. Each year several families return and breed here, raising numerous broods between them. Hearing their chattering around the yard and seeing the fledgelings taking their first flights has been a great privilege.