At Fir Farm we try to work in harmony with nature, aiming for a circular farming system which observes nature’s principles of diversity and balance.
We must put principles of harmony into practice if we are to accelerate the transition to sustainable food and farming systems that work with nature, rather than against it. Achieving this change requires a new approach which puts the observation of natural ecosystems at its core. One of the ways we are doing this on our farm is through the use of mob grazing techniques which mimic the natural grazing patterns found in wild herds of herbivorous animals.
The natural instinct of grazing animals is to move and graze as a group, ensuring safety against predators. In the wild they would move over much larger distances, not returning to re-graze the same area straight away. To mimic this we graze our animals on relatively small areas for short periods, moving them to fresh grass every few days. This ensures a more natural grassland and soil ecosystem by allowing, for example, grass to grow back fully rather than be repeatedly grazed. The soil is broken up naturally through trampling of the cattle which allows moisture and seeds to be better absorbed, creating fertility and diversity.
You can read more about mob grazing in this article
by Christine Page of Smiling Tree Farm.
You can read more about soils on our farm here
And on how we manage our livestock here
We have planted over 50 acres of native woodland (nearly 45,000 trees) and 4.2 kilometres of hedgerow, two fruit orchards and a nuttery, providing food and habitats for local wildlife and also provides a sustainable fuel source for the future. We use the sheep to graze between the trees as part of our woodland strategy which has exposed hunting ground for owls, and we have seen an increase in wildlife throughout the woodland. We also have nest boxes for many native woodland birds such as tree sparrows and robins.
Using timber gathered from sustainable sources we create woodchip biofuel from virgin softwood, which supplies not only Fir Farm but also many local businesses with an eco-friendly source of fuel.
To find out more about out biomass fuel click here
Under the guidance of Vaughan Lewis from the Wild Trout Trust we have carried out significant work to our section of the river to improve conditions for wild Brown Trout and other river species. We have installed three trout bypasses which allow the fish to migrate and spawn. Felled and fallen trees are used to create important habitats for trout as well as gravel banks which are good for spawning.
Find out more about the Wild Trout Trust here
There is an abundance of wildlife on the farm, including breeding otters, water voles, barn owls, little owls, kingfishers, herons and egrets. In recent years we have seen an increase in the numbers of hedgehogs, in contrast with the national trend.
We are proud of our diverse pastures which are great for wildlife as well as the livestock that graze them. We have many wild herbs in our pastures, including trefoil, chicory, yarrow, clovers, plantains and sainfoin.
In 2018 we undertook a grassland survey to set a baseline for the farm’s biodiversity and we intend to undertake a another survey in 5 years’ time to record how our management of the farm has affected the biodiversity.
There is thought to be less than 1500ha of MG4 (MG4 is the characteristic grassland community of seasonally-flooded river valleys in lowland southern England) grassland, between 5000 and 10000ha of MG5b grassland (MG5b is typical of deep soils over well-drained and relatively calcareous substrata) and a total of approximately 15000ha of species-rich lowland meadow remaining in the UK (Maddock, 2011).
Fir Farm represents approximately 0.2% of the national resource of MG4 and approximately 0.03% of the remaining Lowland Meadow Priority Habitat, and is therefore of great importance nationally.
Of the 106ha of grassland at Fir Farm in 2018, approximately 6ha (c6%) is priority habitat grassland which was found in four fields, of which 4.4ha is species-rich and MG5b in favourable condition. This grassland is agriculturally unimproved, species-rich grassland (Priority Habitat Lowland Meadow). Approximately 60% of this grassland is NVC community (National Vegetation Classification Rodwell, 1992) MG4 (Alopecurus pratensis meadow foxtail-Sanguisorba officinalis greater burnet grassland), with approximately 40% MG5b (Centaurea nigra black knapweed-Cynosurus cristatus crested dog’s-tail grassland). It is unlikely that this grassland has been ploughed for several centuries or has been intensively managed.
A further 30ha of grassland at Fir Farm has been identified as suitable for restoration to species-rich Lowland Meadow, once restored this will represent a significant contribution to national targets for habitat reestablishment.
There is approximately 21.5ha of semi-improved grassland, and a further 9 ha of grassland which we are restoring to species-rich grassland. The remaining grassland is species-poor agriculturally-improved pasture which we are working towards improving the biodiversity of all our grassland by practicing mob grazing, hay strewing and feeding hay on the ground produced from the species-rich grassland on the farm.
We also found within an arable margin broad-fruited cornsalad Valerianella rimosa, there are fewer than 20 known localities of this species in Britain. In addition we found another Section 41 species (many of our rarest and most threatened species are listed under Section 41 (S41) of the 2006 Natural Environment and Rural Communities (NERC) Act), shepherd’s needle Scandix pecten-veneris, and three other fields included relatively uncommon arable plant species.
Much of our water is naturally sourced from boreholes, springs and ponds. We have created four ponds on the farm. We aim to increase our percentage of water harvested year on year and ensure that when the cattle are housed they drink collected rainwater. All the run-off water from the farm yards and buildings is collected and stored in a lagoon. We re-use the water in the summer on the grasslands and arable fields. We keep our water management strategy under review and it is a continually evolving process.