Berth Farm Beginnings…
I am Tash and I’m in the process of establishing a small-scale rewilding project near Kidwelly in Carmarthenshire. Last year I bought 70 acres that had previously been farmed for barley and triticale. Unfortunately the land had been ploughed very deeply which brought all the clay to the surface. There is very little topsoil, really just a metre of clay above sandstone. I decided it is a priority to establish topsoil and all my efforts are trying to meet that aim.
Welsh Government reviewed the land in 2021 and placed 30 acres of it under a remediation order to restore it to the condition it was in before it was farmed for arable. The remediation area is primarily lowland marshy grassland which is designated a priority habitat as it is of national importance for biodiversity. The conditions of the remediation order are that the land should be grazed at a very low stocking density and will be monitored by Welsh Government annually. This means that the ecologist who reviewed the site, visits once a year to give me lots of advice and discuss my plans.
The remediation order has 4 parts:
1. Vegetation must be allowed to recover by natural regeneration
2. The land should be grazed from 1 April – 30 November at a stocking rate of no more than 0.6 livestock units per hectare (in practice this means 12 beef cattle). Topping may also be required from August onwards
3. Invasive weeds must be controlled and cattle must not poach the land in wet conditions
4. The aim is to return the land to a condition where the key plants are present at a frequency which the Welsh Government consider as being typical on lowland marshy grasslands and this will be monitored annually
I have introduced 8 Hereford and Hereford X cattle who happily graze the 30 acres of the remediation land and do very well on what seems quite poor pasture.
The remaining 40 acres is recovering pasture. There are many areas of straw on these fields where the barley was harvested and the standing straw left which has since fallen over and formed a mat on the clay creating a habitat where very little grows. In some areas, however, the straw has rotted and there is reasonable grass growing. There are a couple of spoil heaps (from old coal mine works) which attract different plants to the other areas.
I think these fields need mob grazing (see Allan Savory if you want to read up on this technique) to try and quickly establish topsoil, breakdown remaining straw and vegetation and spread grass seed by feeding hay. This winter will test this idea as I will be mob grazing the cattle in 1 acre paddocks across the 40 acres, moving them daily or every 2 days, feeding them round bale hay which will be unrolled and will also spread grass seed around. The hay was cut late to capture seed. Any that is left or trampled will increase the biomass on the ground which will enhance the soil. I will also be dragging moveable water troughs around for the cattle – we will see how that goes!
All the fields are lined with mature trees which are outgrown hedgerows. Since Berth means ‘hedge’ in Welsh, I plan to reinstate hedgerows around the farm area. The farmhouse was bulldozed in the 80s by the Coal Board who were apparently worried about squatters. It remains as a pile of rubble surrounded by farm buildings in disrepair. I want to reinstate one of the barns primarily to collect rainwater and provide a roof for solar panels but also as a feed and hay store as the cattle will require lots of hay in winter as the grazing is really pretty poor.
To be continued….
Image credit: for top image (hare & moth) : Jemima Jameson @ http://jjworld.co.uk/, for all photos: Tash Reilly