Pasture Champions: Woodland Valley Farm, Cornwall 1/3
Tell us about your farm, its location, size, altitude, climate, soils, enterprises, organic/PfL/other status
Woodland Valley Farm is managed by the partnership of Chris and Janet, their children Felicity and William Jones. It has been in the ownership of the family since 1960. It was 133 acres on purchase but George Jones, Chris’s father, bought another 37 acres in 1970 from the break-up of the neighbouring Halezy Farm.
It’s located in the geographic centre of Cornwall, and lies in the valley of the Nankilly Water, a tributary of the Tresillian river, itself a tributary of the Fal. It varies in altitude from 44m ASL to 106m ASL. Soils are derived from Devonian Gramscatho beds (shales, slates and sandstones) and are mostly shallow silty clay loam sitting over a very well shattered substrate.
The exception is the valley bottom adjacent to the stream which has a layer of kaolin varying in thickness from a few centimetres to a few metres thick. This originated from the St Austell granite which is only 2 miles to the North, mobilised in a process called solifluction during peri-glacial conditions associated with the ice ages.
The soils have a pH of about 5.5 unless modified with a liming agent – typically we use sea sand for this, with the aim of bringing pH to 6+ but as we grow no crops other than grass, we are not being diligent about this.
Of the 170 acres 2 are allotments, 26 are woodland of one sort or another, 3 are buildings and roads, leaving 139 acres of grassland, and of this, 50 acres are being converted to wood pasture under Higher Tier Stewardship.
We currently have a small but growing suckler herd of hybrid cattle (mostly Hereford and Angus blood), which we aim to stabilise at a comfortably sustainable size for an all year round grazing herd.
We still make some hay just to soak up excess grass production which we either sell or feed to the herd in field. We commenced pasture-only feeding in 2009, helped to found the PFLA from the very earliest point, and we have been organic since 2003, with Soil Association certification.
We are members of Cornwall Wildlife Trust and work with them very closely, not least on the Cornwall Beaver Project. Chris works 4 days a week for Beaver Trust, and Felicity manages our education and accommodation business.
Share with us a general description of the biodiversity on your farm – essentially above ground (but reference to below ground if relevant) – both flora and fauna.
Woodland Valley is unremarkable in terms of biodiversity for an organic pasture farm in this part of the country.
We have noticed a general reduction if not outright loss of several species over Chris’s lifetime. Lapwings, once a typical winter visitor (along with curlew) are now only seen in the coldest of winters, and then only in very small numbers.
Curlews have not been heard calling here for decades. Murmurations of starlings are no longer seen in this part of the county, when they were commonplace up to the 80’s. Cuckoos were symptomatic of Springtime, but disappeared completely by the 90’s, although they are beginning to very slowly come back.
Swallows which until just a few years ago used to nest here by the dozen are down to 1 pair in 2020 and 2 pairs in 2021. Grey partridge were a commonality in the 60’s and 70’s but are now locally extinct.
These losses of avifauna are disorienting and demoralising, and we know that the reasons are deep-seated - climate change and farming practices being the main culprits - and very hard to counter on the individual farm level. Some have been threatened to extinction by farming, our very own industry. We have also seen declines in mammals – especially hares, which are now a rarity.
There are fortunately some signs that other animals are doing well here. Badgers have been abundant in the area, and for whatever reason we have been TB-free since testing began.
It would be good to unpick that, is it because our cattle are particularly healthy because of their natural diet? Are they unstressed because of their relatively low stocking rate? No-one knows.
As we adopted mob stocking, we observed that it was possible to cease chemical worming, which meant that dung beetles were able to re-establish here, and they in turn have been accompanied by an uptick in the numbers of bat species foraging around the pastures, especially lesser and greater horseshoe bats.