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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 28 2017 10:50PM

This week it was revealed that scientists have teamed up with supermarket bosses to ‘encourage’ us all to replace red meat with more vegetables and fruit. That’s right, supermarkets have only taken about 70 years to start caring about our health and that of our environment - but do they really?

Now, some farmers rely entirely on supermarkets to sell their produce for them and they have to be rather careful about what they say for fear of losing their contracts. Here at Rosewood our only contract is with you, the consumer, so we don’t need to skirt around the issues. The only thing we have to fear is a court case but to be honest, the publicity of the supermarkets stamping on a small ethical producer would be a gift!

Firstly, let’s look at some stats. By 1961 there were already 572 supermarkets established in the UK, and they continued to grow, with the biggest four, Tesco, Sainsburys, Morrisons & ASDA accounting for 76.4% of the UK grocery market by 2011. At the same time the amount consumers spend on food has declined from just under £1 in every 3 in 1961 [pdf] to just over £1 in every 10 by 2011 [pdf].

It’s not only the way we buy food and how much we pay for it that has changed; over the same 50 year timespan what we eat has also been transformed. The FAO (Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations) keeps track of global food consumption levels and the figures make for some interesting reading.

Changing patterns of UK food consumption over half a century
Changing patterns of UK food consumption over half a century

As we can see, fruit & veg has seen huge increases in consumption of 52%, almost five times that of meat. And they want us to eat even more despite the UK already importing some 65% of our fruit & veg. There is nothing in the announcement about stocking more British or sustainably grown food so we can only assume that the plan is to ship in even more produce from water-stressed regions of the world, despite the obvious issues.

Meanwhile, levels of red meat consumption, most commonly blamed for both declines in health and climate change, have in fact already dropped by 1657 tonnes or 25% of daily consumption. Bearing in mind that over the same period the UK population has risen by almost 20%, individually we are eating 37% less beef & lamb. Hardly a compelling argument for skyrocketing demand.

Here in the Lower Derwent Valley, we are experiencing the direct consequences of this shift in food patterns. The floodplain meadows have been annually grazed the same way for at least 1,000 years but this traditional practise is coming to an end quicker than you might think as people move away from eating grazed meat. In line with the common trend of falling cattle numbers, our area has seen its own decline, leaving us as the last cattle farmers left standing on the floodplains.

UK cattle numbers continue to decline significantly from the mid-1970's
UK cattle numbers continue to decline significantly from the mid-1970's

Reproduced from; Agriculture; historical statistics [pdf]

It’s not just the decline in red meat consumption driving the change of land use, we have also severed our links with animals as workmates - once upon a time we relied upon animals, cattle and horses, to provide the power to grow all our food and they required large areas of pasture in order to harvest the sun's energy and turn it into work. Since the 1930’s, when fossil fuels started to replace draught animals in earnest, the UK has lost more than 97% of these grasslands to either intensification, drainage and/or the plough.

Some of the measly 3% which remains does have significant protected status but the one thing that legislation can’t protect against is now their biggest threat - neglect.

Whimbrel; rare wading birds depend upon cattle grazing for habitat and food
Whimbrel; rare wading birds depend upon cattle grazing for habitat and food

Farmland birds and small mammals thrived in the patchwork we used to have of short grasslands, wet woodlands, marshes and waterways and so too did migratory winter visitors which rely on cattle grazing these pastures for food and habitat. Grasslands provide resilient crops that can withstand and protect the soil from being washed away in the seasonal floods. The one thing that underpins this diversity of life is the annual removal of the grass crop by mowing and/or grazing, without that the fragile ecosystem becomes much more homogenous, with the more delicate plant species, and the animals that rely upon them for food, outcompeted by coarser, rank vegetation.

Coarse vegetation, lacking in diversity, takes over if left ungrazed
Coarse vegetation, lacking in diversity, takes over if left ungrazed

It’s not that environmentalists and farmers don’t recognise the need for grazing animals to maintain biodiversity, but it’s just that they can no longer [financially] afford to do it because demand has dropped and what demand there is does not want a beef supply that ebbs and flows with the seasons.

We can see this if we revisit our consumption graph - although it shows an almost 40% reduction in red meat consumption, the figures DO show that individual total meat consumption has risen by 11%, largely driven by the almost 5-fold increase in poultry (not red meat) alongside a 6% increase in pork. The scientists & supermarkets didn’t mention that, perhaps because it runs counter to their conclusions or maybe it was because the supermarkets are responsible for the massive increase in chicken consumption in the first place.

Chicken is a wonderful meat for supermarkets. They have grown their market entirely on the back of convenience, and what that means in practise is predictability - you want to walk into a supermarket and know that your 300g packet of chicken breast will be there every week, year round. Throw a load of cheap fossil fuels at chickens and you get quick, predictable results. Because mother chickens don’t need to rear their own young like mammals, we can ramp up egg production, bang those eggs in a machine, move the hatchlings into a climate controlled shed and have them oven ready in just 40 days, when you just scoop them up off the barn floor and pack them in to crates on a lorry.

Imagine trying to sell a supermarket a bunch of wether lambs which had to live out on a mountain for a couple of years before being ready, each reared by mothers of differing abilities and shaped by good or bad weather - lol!

Veg is even easier to manipulate. There are no pesky welfare concerns to bother yourself with and soil erosion is an unedifying thing for consumers to learn and protest about compared to animal cruelty. The production of them rides on the coat tails of the idea that vegetable growing is a wholesome activity and not actually completely reliant on fossil fuels to provide its machinery and chemicals, especially moreso as they involvement of animals in their production recedes. Entire trailerloads that don’t meet the spec can be rejected without a second thought.

It’s great that consumers are now concerned enough about preserving our environment to let it influence their buying habits - this is proven by the fact that supermarkets are using this as the excuse to try making us more reliant on crops. It’s great that consumers want to support small farmers, evidenced by the popularity of supermarkets faking this on their labelling. What is crushingly disappointing for us is that the message designed to encourage us to eat a more sustainable diet is now having the exact opposite effect.

Gone is our varied mosaic of farmland, gone are the cattle grazing the pastures, chicken is king and vegetables can get away with murder.

The Alternative?

If Sainsburys really does want ideas to encourage us to eat less meat, rather than just maximise it’s own profits, I have a suggestion - they should stop selling it! Before the rise of supermarkets our meat came either directly from farmers and/or butchers, we valued it more and we ate slightly less chicken, pork and seafood and more grazed meats which maintained higher levels of wildlife and more variety in the countryside, simultaneously offsetting the damage caused by crop production. Farmers were able to make a living and our traditional meadows were grazed properly. Today the consumer has been separated from the land where their food has been produced and the people who produce it, and both have suffered as a result. Without supermarkets exerting their desperate need for predictability and uniformity we could make better use of our natural resources again.

So c’mon Sainsburys, go the whole hog, ditch the meat altogether and let consumers, the environment, animals and farmers get a better deal.

By Rosewood Farm, Dec 30 2016 02:54PM

I’ve written many blogs over the course of the year with topics ranging from Celtic Cattle to Conservation Grazing, but all tend to have an underlying theme of asking you to do more for our wildlife and our countryside. I aim to bring a range of news and views, from the farm, to this blog but something I don’t do enough of is to talk about what great things we have achieved!

None of this would be possible without you, the customer, buying our beef and enabling us to graze this internationally important habitat. So join me in a walk around the farm and please feel justifiably proud of all you have accomplished in 2016.

It was a wet start to 2016 after the Ings filled up over the Christmas period last year and the floods lasted much longer than usual. January the 13th marked the twentieth anniversary of the start of the Rosewood pedigree Dexter herd, which also gave us a chance to reflect on how Rosewood Farm has evolved over the years.

World Wetlands Day on February 2nd provided an opportunity to celebrate how important wetlands are to our future and talk about some of their many advantages. While international treaties such as the Ramsar convention are applied to protect many habitats around the world from damage, few people realise just how significant their own contribution is to maintaining these wetlands whenever they eat beef from Rosewood.

Teal (Anas crecca) gather in large numbers on the flooded meadows
Teal (Anas crecca) gather in large numbers on the flooded meadows

While saving the world’s wetlands from destruction, Rosewood became a location for filming of the amazing Tales of Bacon comedy webseries. The trailer, release in the Spring, featured many great scenes (and the odd ox) from the farm, and the crowdfunding campaign was so popular that the cast & crew were able to complete the series. Following the final edit we’re looking forward to the release early in 2017.

As the weeks passed it was apparent that the prolonged flooding meant that Spring grazing was initially in short supply and the seasons were running a bit behind schedule. Not only is that a problem for our cattle but while the valley is home to many migratory winter visitors to the UK that rely upon the floods, our resident and returning summer visitors require the food and nesting sites that the damp (not submerged!) meadows provide.

We grazed a new piece of land at Thornton for just one week the previous autumn, mainly to trample the coarse, woody growth and let light down to the more delicate grasses and wildflowers. By the summer there was enough cover to provide an few extra weeks of grazing for the cattle which put them on nicely. The ability to be flexible with our grazing gave the lapwing chicks in the lower reaches of the Ings a little more time feeding on the shorter grasses, to make up for the later start to the season.

Lapwing Chick (Vanellus vanellus)
Lapwing Chick (Vanellus vanellus)

It never ceases to amaze me just how quickly grasslands can change & regenerate with the reintroduction and careful management of grazing animals. Providing you don’t plough, the habitat remains in situ but suppressed, awaiting the ideal conditions to return to it’s former glory. We are lucky to have such a dedicated team in the Lower Derwent Valley National Nature Reserve who identify and record the results - a total of 94 different plant species identified in 2016 provide the building blocks of both great beef and a bounty of invertebrate & bird life. Finding Water Chickweed in the pasture was one of the highlights of our grazing season.

Water Chickweed (Myosoton aquaticum)
Water Chickweed (Myosoton aquaticum)

As summer rolled on we were delighted to be asked to do even more for the Nature Reserve by cutting and grazing some new sites in the valley. I admit that I was reticent at first and had a more modest plan in mind, as we barely have enough animals to graze our existing land to seemed like an impossible task to tackle Seavy Carr. But with overall numbers of livestock declining the need has never been greater and the buzz of seeing biodiversity increase on a site you manage is so all-consuming that we didn’t stop there and even agreed to manage another 40 acres closer to home for a neighbouring farmer.

Aside from the hay making, August was a busy month which saw the launch of the Dexter Pasty by Lynne at Wolds Way Pantry. We often say that there are more people living in London who receive a regular Rosewood delivery than in the local area but they will have to come a long way to sample the Dexter Pasty, but it’ll be worth it! The Dexter was soon joined by the Kerry Hill pasty which also went down well with regulars to the Goodmanham Arms and other local eateries.

The Wolds Way Pantry Dexer pasty was a massive hit
The Wolds Way Pantry Dexer pasty was a massive hit

We redesigned our website,, to make it easier to navigate on mobiles, as more people seem to be buying beef on the go these days. We like to make supporting environmentally-friendly farming an opportunity for everyone with a low minimum order equal to a single freezer drawer but this year we’ve simplified it even further by ditching delivery charges too!

Our organic approach to farming greatly benefits wildlife but labels are both costly and often compromised so we launched the Rosewood Manifesto. Unlike the political equivalent, our manifesto isn’t a long list of promises that may never see the light of day but a list of the standards that we have, and will continue implement as part of our own personal ethics. Speaking of politics - at least one politician wasn’t afraid to get her feet wet when Rachael Maskell MP, shadow DEFRA secretary, paid us a visit to see our work and talk about what could be done to encourage more farming like we do.

Dicussing farming & conservation with Shadow Defra Sec. Rachael Maskell MP
Dicussing farming & conservation with Shadow Defra Sec. Rachael Maskell MP

As Autumn progressed the relatively dry season meant that the grazing remained firm and the trees held onto their leaves for longer. Cattle are the most versatile of grazing animals but with so many diverse sites to tackle a little variety was needed. A small herd of genuine Exmoor ponies joined us here in the lowlands of Yorkshire and went straight to work helping to restore some wet grassland to create favourable habitat for breeding waders in the Spring.

To round off the year we had our second round of cows & heifers giving birth. Sadly our first cow to be born at Rosewood Farm, Holly, passed away out at pasture this month. She wasn’t the oldest (her dad, Ilex, is still with us) nor the prettiest cow but after more than 13 years on the farm she was certainly a valued member of the team who will be remembered fondly. Her memory will help to be kept live as two of her daughters were among those producing the 4th generation of Rosewood calves.

New additions to the Rosewood herd relaxing together
New additions to the Rosewood herd relaxing together

Running both a farm and a mail-order business means that there’s always something to do, but probably the most calm time of the year are those few days after the last posting date for Christmas up until the day itself. The stressful period of collating special Christmas orders, many of which were first placed way back in July or earlier, and ensuring that they are all delivered, is over and I get a few days to see all of the animals and start making plans for the year ahead.

This year I used some of that time to visit Thornton and retrieve some of the cattle fencing that was too far into the post-storm floodwater to gather up before. Visiting the Ings every day during the summer to check and move the cattle allows us to see the gradual changes that follow the grazing season but returning after a few weeks away really brings it home to you just how much the habitat has been enhanced throughout the year.

So that’s our year, it’s been busy and we’ve made lots of progress but we simply couldn’t do it without you. Whether you buy our stuff for the contribution it makes to wildlife or simply because it tastes great, you are equally responsible for some great work. So what will 2017 hold for us? We have a few ideas, watch this space...

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