Wetlands are OUR future
By Rosewood Farm, Feb 2 2016 11:53AM
Today, February 2nd, is World Wetlands Day 2016 and this year the focus is on Sustainable Livelihoods. More than a billion livelihoods depend on wetlands around the world, and ours is just one of them.
The RAMSAR convention is the international treaty for the protection of our global wetlands. Here at Rosewood Farm we are at the heart of RAMSAR site No. 301, the Lower Derwent Valley, known locally as the ‘Ings’. The site comprises one of the most important traditionally managed species-rich, alluvial flood-meadow habitat remaining in the UK. More then one third of our grazing pasture and hay meadows lie within the site which provide the bulk of the summer grazing for our pedigree Dexter cattle and Kerry Hill sheep.
My childhood was heavily influenced by the Ings. Growing up in a small village on the edge of the floodplain we spent many hours walking, fishing and even ice-skating on the meadows! They were ‘normal’ to me, and it wasn’t until I moved away to study agriculture that I realised not everyone was lucky enough to have them on their doorstep. The effect that the wetlands have on the wildlife of the wider valley is also profound and a number of nationally threatened species are common here.
Once winter sets in our meadows become part of a vast inland ‘sea’, barely recognisable as fields but providing relief for millions of gallons of flood water. A large number of swans, ducks and geese either spend the winter here or use it as an migratory staging post, a chance to rest and refuel on their seasonal journeys from as far away as South Africa & Iceland.
Away from the Ings, wetlands are also vitally important to the functioning of our business back on the farm. When we took over the land in 2002 we acquired two farm ‘ponds’, which were severely silted up, so much so that the very first calf to be born on the farm, Holly, was found quite happily laying in the middle of the main pond. Over the years we have restored and enhanced the ponds by desilting and creating open water habitats in addition to planting up a seasonally flooded wetland area with willow, yellow flag iris and bulrushes that have naturally flourished.
When we began farming cattle in 1996 we discovered another advantage of the Ings in the sweet hay that contributes to the most succulent and tasty Dexter beef. Upon this we have built our own sustainable livelihood, adding grassfed lamb to the business six years later and developing a reputation among customers throughout the UK for beef & lamb that tastes good, “like meat used to taste”.
The wetland is also important for purifying the waste water from the farm - the butchery & toilets feed into the system, which first passes through a septic tank before discharging into our two constructed reedbeds. The clean, filtered water then discharges into a ‘living soakaway’ containing a variety of wetland plants included coppiced willows. These trees provide cuttings for the new trees in the adjacent wetland and some of our winter woodfuel. This week I have been busy maintaining the wetland, coppicing & planting willow and dividing reed plants before Spring.
What was once a damp wasteland has been transformed into a haven for a number of birds, insects and amphibians. Looking out of the farm office window and see bullfinches feeding on the reeds is one of the highlights of the year. While improving and extending the farm buildings we have discovered a number of frogs, toads and newts hiding in damp foundations, and being able to relocate these little 'bog monsters' to the safety of a more suitable habitat makes it all worthwhile. Last, but not least, last year our wetland became a very believable Medieval graveyard for the filming of Tales of Bacon - a truly diverse range of sustainable livelihoods.
We may have lost 64% of world wetlands since 1900, including most of our traditional flood meadows here in the UK, but their use continues, simultaneously providing us with food, jobs and drinking water. If you'd like to learn more about wetlands around the world, take a look at the World Wetlands Day website or pay us a visit here at the farm and see what they have to offer.