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Follow us for updates of life, food & wildlife on the farm here in the Lower Derwent Valley, Yorkshire.

By Rosewood Farm, Jan 16 2017 01:54PM

I wasn’t planning to blog so soon after my last installment about Planet Earth, but then a report, revealing how birds are being cropped out of the British Countryside, dropped into my inbox. I felt it was important to share this news as so often we can easily feel like our contribution is insignificant when it comes to preventing and reversing climate change. This is different, there really are lots of things we can do to halt the decline of farmland birds and their habitat.

You may be forgiven for thinking that we are anti-arable farming here at Rosewood after years of us going on about how bad crops are for the countryside and how much better grassfed is for us, the environment and the animals. So you may be surprised to learn that we do actually like some veg with our meat, and we don’t think humans should turn into carnivores - we just think that the balance has been somewhat tipped in the wrong direction.

I don’t know any farmers who actively enjoy destroying biodiversity but the level of passion for our wildlife varies among them from apathetic to absolute dedication. The problem we face is that the market doesn’t offer many opportunities to reward farmers for having the most biodiverse farms, in fact it is largely due to the personal interest of farmers & conservationist that we have any wildlife left in the UK at all.

Sprout aficionado John Clappison produces 5% of the UK's sprout crop
Sprout aficionado John Clappison produces 5% of the UK's sprout crop

It was during a meeting with one farmer last year about our plans to graze his recreated wet grassland that the enthusiasm really hit home. John is an arable farmer with a real passion for growing brussels sprouts, but it turned out his passion also extended to taking shots (with his mobile phone's camera) of the Lapwings living in his sprout crop! But when was the last time you saw ‘Lapwing-friendly’ sprouts on the supermarket shelf?

Post-war governments & the EU have certainly played a big part in both habitat loss and restoration over the years, and opinion remains divided over whether Brexit will be good or bad for nature. At Rosewood our own experience, taking part in the EU-funded Countryside Stewardship Scheme for ten years, was a mixed bag. On the one hand the capital grants were great - they helped us to restore the hedgerows that had been lost due to years of neglect (as opposed to active destruction).

A new mixed-species hedgerow planted at Rosewood Farm
A new mixed-species hedgerow planted at Rosewood Farm

The other side of the coin was that we were farming by dates and numbers. Prescriptions were put in place to stop us grazing after x-date and not before y-date, not taking into account the weather, ground cover or alternative grazing/housing for the animals. ‘Farming by numbers’ was both practically unsustainable and took absolutely no account of whether we were achieving our wildlife objectives or not. If I could change one thing about the system it would be that any incentives are paid for results and let farmers farm in the best way they see fit to achieve those results.

Fast-forward to the present day and we can see the legacy of ‘farming by numbers’, coupled with unsustainably low prices for livestock, in the number of local farmers who are giving up grazing in the Ings. There has also been a [not so] coincidental shift in what the market is demanding from farmers too. We all know about the effect that the cheap food policy has had on farming but less often mentioned are the unrealistic specifications that farm produce has to conform to. In the good times the prices paid for produce may be reasonable, but there is virtually no demand for the produce which falls outside of the spec so it fetches a much lower price. This has shaped the countryside for years with farmers forced to produce what they can sell, not necessarily what benefits their land and biodiversity.

Lapwing (Vanellus vanellus) the largest member of the Plover family
Lapwing (Vanellus vanellus) the largest member of the Plover family

Hugh’s War on Waste challenged us to start demanding wonky veg to cut food waste. Not only does this represent a waste of time and energy in growing and transporting food that we will never eat but that veg is taking up valuable space once inhabited by our farmland birds. As we spray and cultivate crops in pursuit of perfection we are actively wiping out the insects, seeds and nesting sites on which our farmland birds depend.

This is why at Rosewood we sell-direct, as we have always kept Dexter cattle that are much smaller than most breeds of cattle. Dexters are the ‘wonky’ veg of the beef world, so wonky that you won’t find them in the supermarkets at all. Ironically we find that our customers find that the smaller joints and steaks suit them better for home cooking, when they are given the choice. We have also found that Dexters, unlike the supermarket specification-hitting larger breeds, are ideally suited to grazing the diverse and damp grasslands of the Ings without causing damage to the soil.

Redshank (Tringa totanus) is a target species for the new wet grassland
Redshank (Tringa totanus) is a target species for the new wet grassland

So, what does this mean for the birds? Well, the other advantage of being in direct contact with you, the consumer, is that we can talk about the problem of declining bird numbers and how eating more beef really can help us to address this. Our passion has always been grassland and grazing livestock, so we’re not planning on becoming arable farmers anytime soon, and much of our land is unsuitable for cultivation anyway. Overs the years we have amassed a wealth of knowledge and experience in managing the land and livestock together for the benefit of wild birds and by working with farmers like John, we are able to spread our impact over the wider arable landscape too.

So here are a few things you can do to help us to put the birds back into the British countryside;

- Write to your MP to put birds into Brexit by letting them know that you want to end the ‘farming by numbers’ approach

- Help us to invest in new hedgerows, ponds and bird boxes with our 'Veggie' donation box

- Keep buying the wonky veg, and serve it with some wonky beef

- Take part in the RSPB’s Big Garden Bird Watch on the 28th - 30th January

- Share this blog with all your friends and inspire others to bring the birds back!

By Rosewood Farm, Nov 4 2015 12:52PM

Food waste hit the headlines recently, with Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall highlighting the issue by standing beside a pile of 20 tonnes of perfectly edible parsnips that were rejected by the supermarkets. Knowing that a significant proportion of those crops will never make it to the plate is gut-wrenching for us, as growing annual crops involves so many resources such as fuel and pesticides along with the inevitable exposure of the soil to the destructive elements. We shouldn’t be wasting good food and we shouldn’t produce food that is not to be eaten, as the land could be put to much better uses.

Vegetable crops are among those grown on neighbouring farms
Vegetable crops are among those grown on neighbouring farms

Life looks a little different on the other side of the hedge
Life looks a little different on the other side of the hedge

I care deeply about the landscapes & environment around us and I’m excited to be building biodiversity, feeding more people and putting life back into our soils here at Rosewood.

World population may be rising but we are still manage to grow so many vegetables that we eat only the best looking ones. This abundance is only possible because the UK imports the balance, 40%, of its food requirements from other countries. At the same time society is becoming increasingly aware of the impact we have upon the earth it seems crazy to be producing and importing food to throw so much away.

Meat has received some bad press in recent years with many organisations, such as the UN, urging us to eat less meat in order to cut down on the amount of wasted food. And here in the UK we are indeed taking this advice and eating less meat but the unintended consequences are having a devastating effect on the nation’s meadows and wildlife.

As a direct consequence of land use change, biodiversity (the number and variety of plants and animals in our environment) is in decline. The total area of UK wildflower meadows has reduced by 97% since the second world war, yet we have retained a large expanse of the remaining 3% here in the Lower Derwent Valley. The problem is that despite many of these meadows being protected by law as SSSIs (Sites of Special Scientific Interest) and SPAs (Special Protection Areas), they remain under threat from a lack of appropriate management.

At Rosewood Farm we first started breeding pedigree cattle 20 years ago, with the addition of sheep six years later. Our intention was to develop a low input system utilising semi-natural grasslands to produce tasty, sustainable meat. The method requires none of the artificial inputs that are used to produce the majority of annual crops today and actually puts carbon back into the soil. What makes the present situation worse is that these rejected parsnips would make the perfect culinary accompaniment for our Dexter beef & Kerry Hill lamb.

Bred as grazing animals our cattle and sheep are in high demand from other farmers and Natural England to manage the wide variety of local biodiverse grasslands, from damp, peaty water meadows to dry heathy pastures.

Ungrazed meadows represent a significant proportion of 'unseen' food waste
Ungrazed meadows represent a significant proportion of 'unseen' food waste

The beauty of the Rosewood Farm way is that increasing the numbers of livestock and carefully managing their grazing is both ecologically beneficial and feeds more people. More livestock = more carbon in the soil = more food produced.

The one natural input that has the biggest effect and is impossible to replace is time. Growing plants transfer carbon from the atmosphere to our soils: the regular natural cycle of grass growth and root die-back after grazing keeps pumping the carbon underground and building organic soil mass, which in turn encourages healthy plants.

A plant that reaches full size stops growing and stops the process of carbon transfer. Without the essential grazing, plants do still follow the carbon cycle but at a much slower rate due to the less regular growth associated with mature plants and less carbon is transferred to the soil.

Rosewood Farm’s traditional breeds of cattle and sheep are of a size & nature that makes them perfectly suited to grazing the old Ings pastures and meadows alongside the River Derwent and Pocklington Canal. However, like Hugh’s wonky parsnips, supermarkets have specific specifications for meat which concentrate purely upon size & shape of the carcass so you won’t find our tasty, sustainable produce on their shelves.

Producing and retailing our own produce via our website gives us full control over exactly what happens to our animals and the food they produce. It is much easier to maintain complete traceability and good high welfare with animals slaughtered at the opposite side of the road to the fields they graze.

I have to go and tend our cattle now, but I'll leave you with this thought; in Hugh's War on Waste he mentions that the average UK household discards almost £15 of edible food every week - that's more than the cost of one whole monthly meat box from Rosewood.

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