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By Rosewood Farm, Jan 9 2017 02:38PM

I hope you’ve had a good Christmas and New Year holiday. Chances are that, as you’re reading this blog, you’re a big fan of all things nature & there’s a fair chance that you were among the millions of people tuning in to watch the final episode of Sir David Attenborough’s epic Planet Earth II. The series was reportedly more popular among young people than The X Factor. I may no longer be a ‘young person’ by the BBC’s definition but I too enjoyed the amazing footage and snapshots of life on Earth...although I’ve never watched The X Factor.


A harvest mouse climbing long grass Photo credit; BBC
A harvest mouse climbing long grass Photo credit; BBC

Two months ago I invested in a book that I had been meaning to read for some time. The author of The Yorkshire River Derwent: Moments in Time, Ian Carstairs may be less well-known than Sir David but as his MBE for services to conservation and OBE for services to heritage demonstrates a lifelong commitment to our natural heritage. If you happen to read Moments in Time (and I highly recommend that you do) you will learn just how important our little local river has been and continues to be to both conservation and our natural heritage. As Moments in Time shows, this wasn’t an accident and a lot of work by conservationists and local farmers over the years has preserved it to this day.


Not having a TV our viewing at Rosewood tends to be limited to programming that is available online. The changes to TV licensing in 2016 meant that we weren’t able to watch the series on iplayer either. However I did manage to catch at least of a couple of episodes including the one covering our favourite subject - grasslands. I hope it inspired a love & appreciation of grasslands among the British public, particularly our very own Lower Derwent Valley, but I also share the concerns of Springwatch presenter and natural history producer Martin Hughes-Games in his opinion piece; The BBC’s Planet Earth II did not help the natural world.


A Moorhen (Gallinula chloropus) on the Rosewood pond
A Moorhen (Gallinula chloropus) on the Rosewood pond

This didn’t first occur to me while watching Planet Earth but rather several months ago while carrying out our own promotional work here on the farm. We see some amazing, breath-taking sights while out around the valley working with our stock. I like to think that our use of social media gives the public a glimpse of what we’re up to, one that I hope will inspire them to support both Rosewood and some of the organisations we work with. However, there is a niggling worry inside me - is this sharing of nature’s bounty breeding a false sense of security?


Most of these encounters represent fleeting glimpses of wildlife that are gone in an instant and, despite my best efforts to carry the camera with me at all times, I don’t get many good shots. We are usually working with animals or against the fading daylight, I rarely have the chance to sit in a hide and wait, so the cameramen working on Planet Earth having nothing to worry about! Hughes-Games’ solution to the possible complacency issue we face of taxing wildlife footage therefore, clearly won’t work at Rosewood.

Conservation protection designations such as SSSIs and Special Protection Areas have been instrumental in preserving the most extensive range of remaining UK floodplain meadows in the Lower Derwent Valley but they can only complement, not replace, the agriculture that shaped these grasslands. Without sympathetic and appropriate farming there simply aren’t the resources to manage these habitats by other means. Neither voting Green nor signing online petitions is going to provide this resource and it is vital that farmers are encouraged to continue doing the very things that created these habitats in the first place.


Farmers, and particularly ‘intensive agriculture’ are often blamed for not sticking with the ways that were kinder to our environment but it’s important to remember that agriculture can only produce what it can sell. An overall decline in farm incomes over the time since environmental protections were introduced has seen many farmers sell their grazing livestock or keep them in sheds more and more, and cultivating the land instead, where allowed. Here, this has seen increased silt levels in the river due to soil erosion, and has put increased pressure on conservation bodies to carry out the essential management the farmers used to, at a time when we face cuts to these organisations.


Unintended consequences; large areas of grassland suffer from undergrazing
Unintended consequences; large areas of grassland suffer from undergrazing

The upside of this for us at Rosewood is that we are not short of grazing for our animals. We can survive where others could not only because we have cut out the middleman (butchers and supermarkets) and set our own prices rather than accept market prices. But we can’t graze the ever larger areas we’re required to as effectively with the same number of animals we had in the past - we need help to fill this vacuum and return things to the way they were.


We are in a unique position to be working so closely with Natural England in the National Nature Reserve where our progress is independently monitored and published. We hope that over time, the results will improve and there will be an upward curve for all the monitored species on a graph somewhere. But we wouldn’t want those good figures to result in reduced support when people think the job is done, and to see things slide back. Our plea is that you make the good results a reason to buy, not a reason NOT to buy.



By Rosewood Farm, Dec 29 2015 04:10PM

If you've followed us for some time, either here on this blog or over on our facebook page, you're probably already fed up of hearing me banging on about how important the Ings are to our wildlife. However, recent events have highlighted the second great advantage of the Ings - flood prevention. If you're unfamiliar, 'Ings' is an old Norse word meaning a series of floodplain meadows and marshes and we have the largest remaining area of them here in the Lower Derwent Valley.


The recent events, first in Cumbria, Lancashire and now York, has really brought the flooding issue, literally, to (and for the unfortunate ones, beyond) our front doors. We've seen the blame being rolled out faster than the sandbags, with everyone from farmers to the Environment Agency being accused of not preventing these catastrophic floods.


My Great Grandfather first moved the family to 'Ings Farm' in the Hull Valley, almost a century ago. They then went on to take the tenancy of the neighbouring Gibraltar Farm. The river Hull was a part of every day life there with a small private ferry boat to carry people and produce across the river to the city of Hull. Flooding made the surrounding alluvial floodplain pastures into a rich, fertile plain for grazing dairy cattle and had been farmed since at least pre-Roman times.



Gibraltar Farm
Gibraltar Farm


Constructed on a small, raised platform, the buildings were elevated slightly above surrounding floodwater but almost all traces of the two farms have since been destroyed. The farm was, out of necessity, designed to cope with flooding, in a way that I highly doubt the 'Kingswood' shopping centre that now occupies the site has been!


For us today, over here in the Lower Derwent Valley, flooding is still very much a part of our lives and the farming year. Although the farm is on higher ground some two miles away from the river, we rely upon the floodplain meadows for feeding our animals. The cattle and sheep are important for the maintenance of the meadows too, by cutting for hay and grazing to remove the abundance of summer growth that would otherwise clog up ditches and prevent the water draining away again when the floods recede.



From pasture to lake in a matter of hours
From pasture to lake in a matter of hours


Many floodplains use artificial drainage to make pastures suitable for both cultivation and building. As we have seen in the recent York floods, pumped solutions such as the Foss barrier bring about a false sense of security and are vulnerable to failure. Here in the Derwent Valley, drainage relies upon natural outfall when the river is low enough. One way flood gates are a low-tech solution which helps to prevent water discharging from the river into the Ings while it is still within it's banks.



One-way flood gates keep water in the river while it is within it's banks
One-way flood gates keep water in the river while it is within it's banks

If we are to develop long term solutions to flooding we need to reevaluate and restore our water meadows and have a bit more respect for the landscape we call home. Hard flood defenses in our towns and cities create bottlenecks and they will only work if the water has an alternative place to go.


Livestock are essential to the management and productivity of floodplains and have the advantage of being portable in the event of flooding. However, just like the floodwater, the cattle and sheep too need somewhere to go when the waters rise. If just some of the flood defence budget could be diverted towards improving winter housing on local livestock farms it would greatly help us to preserve more floodplain meadows intact. Fortunately, we don't need to wait for aid - by eating the meat produced on these floodplains you can directly support the work and ensure that both the water, and the cattle, has somewhere safe to go.



Don't worry - we moved the cattle on Saturday, away from the floodwater!
Don't worry - we moved the cattle on Saturday, away from the floodwater!



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