Pasture Champions: Bella Lowes from Mill Barton Farm in mid Devon 1/4
Tell us about your farm - its location, size, altitude, climate, soils, enterprises; organic, Pasture For Life or another status?
Mill Barton is a small farm of approximately 100acres in mid Devon. Not all the land is contiguous: every part of it is going through a different phase of reversion from either intensive high input mono crop grassland, or high input fodder cropping. Like many farms in this area, we are lucky enough to have deep, generally unspoilt valleys (or goyles), home to closed canopy oak woods, alder and willow scrub, water courses of all shapes and sizes with the associated flora. The land rises from approximately 550 to 700 ft above sea level, which has its own challenges but it is also a huge advantage, above all, offering shelter. We farm to Pasture For Life and organic principles but are not formally accredited with either.
We are in the Culm Measures, meaning there is a seam of clay very close to the surface. Twinned with high rainfall, this area can retain both its water and its nutrients extremely effectively. The soil is generally marginally acidic with areas which are more loamy and some areas on seams of sandstone shillet. Being so far west and under the influence of the Atlantic, temperatures remain fairly mild here with high rainfall and no more than a couple of weeks of frosts in late winter. In the summer, we very rarely see temperatures over 30 degrees.
Give us a general description of the biodiversity on your farm - essentially above ground but reference to below ground, both flora and fauna
Since moving here in 2003, thousands of native trees have been planted to extend and connect established hedges, copses and woodland. Nearly all of this has succeeded to become healthy semi-mature woodland which we run our cattle through twice a year. There are nearly 6kms of hedgerows, some of which are newly planted and all of which are in a 10 - 20 year cut and lay rotation. Tall, thick, species-rich hedges are such a powerful tool to help mitigate the biodiversity crisis.
This spring for example, when we were subjected to cold temperatures and strong easterly winds, the hedges provided us with essential shelter for our livestock, foraging and nesting habitat to invertebrates and birds, and they were a corridor for mammals.
They retained water in the landscape and broke the wind. When the orange tip butterflies should have been out in the meadows foraging on the cuckoo flower, they were only able to fly in the leigh of the hedges. Moving forward we are keen to encourage the encroachment of the hedges into the fields, creating more scrub, and instead of using them as boundaries, we will focus more on using electric fencing to dictate the areas that are grazed and browsed or excluded.