Pasture Champions: Cat Frampton, Dartmoor Farmer

Cat Frampton Farmer and Artist Cat Frampton Farmer and Artist

Tell us about your farm and its location, size, altitude, climate, soils, enterprises, organic, PfL and other status?

Our farm is on the eastern edge of Dartmoor, in a wooded valley, with the moor and tors rising above it. In places it’s very steep, also pretty well strewn with granite. It’s a small farm, 100 acres, and has a bit of moorland grazing on which we keep our Hebridean sheep.

It’s around 300m above sea level and mostly south-facing. A south westerly gale will have been slowed a touch by the hills around us but a cold easterly wind will blow straight up the valley.

It’s often damp and sometimes very damp, and I worry that if managed badly, our soil will just run off the hill leaving us with just the granite bones of the place.

We have a small home-breed suckler herd of cattle and have changed from an Angus bull to a Hereford one recently to breed a bit of calm back in, along with the ability to thrive on our rough pasture.

Aberdeen Angus Aberdeen Angus

We have a flock of 40 Hebridean ewes who graze the open moor above the farm for most of their lives. We’re just starting organic conversion and taken the first steps to becoming PFLA certified, although we have been farming according to their principles since the winter of 2016. We are also part of Farm Wilder.

My parents farmed with fertilisers, weedkillers and wormers; as did so many, but in a smaller way than most due to the difficulties of getting machinery on the land and there is only so much fertilisers you can spread with a quad bike on very steep land. We have found the land that had the least inputs and some none, have a far greater resilience to the variable weather we get. For example, last year’s spring drought meant we had fields of yarrow and knapweed growing strongly, and this year we have more grasses instead.

Yarrow Yarrow

Give us a general description of the biodiversity on your farm – essentially above ground but reference to below ground if relevant – both flora and fauna

We have a lot! It has taken me a long time to realise that not being able to get a tractor onto the majority of our fields and being plagued with enormous lumps of granite, steep slopes or very wet boggy bits of pasture is a blessing rather than a curse. It  has saved the land from the ‘tidy ways’ of modern farming.

We have areas of scrub, woodland both grazed and ungrazed, and ‘rhos’ patches which are not meadows as such, more areas in fields. And as well as these, we have some very species-rich meadows.

  • Over 60 species of birds that live on or visit the farm, including breeding cuckoos
    Waxcap fungi across the farm and more each year as the land fully recovers
  • Dung beetles everywhere, including Geotrupes mutator, stiniger, stercorosus and Minotaur beetles
  • Dead standing trees in our woods and thickets of deep scrub
    A thriving and naturally expanding ‘temperate Celtic rainforest’ wood
    Dormice and voles in abundance but sadly no water voles due to mink
  • Dragonflies and caddisflies in our stream and leat
  • Starting to see orchids returning to the land
Dung beetles have returned Dung beetles have returned