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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, Mar 19 2017 04:14PM

The release of the book Dead Zone, Where the Wild Things Were by Philip Lymbery, of Compassion in World Farming, this week reminds us that what we eat, three times every day, has a direct impact upon the variety of wild plants and animals that survive beside us in our countryside. Here at Rosewood Farm we are mindful to ensure that how we farm not only eliminates harm to other species around the world, but actively restores and enhances the biodiversity of our local landscape. Like all great culinary delights, this doesn't happen by accident, and is the result of carefully following and refining the recipe. Here's how it's done;

Biodiversity is a dish best served warm, or cold, depending upon where in the world (and the season) that it is being prepared, but most important of all it must never be reheated! The best biodiversity is a deeply satisfying, healthy and sustaining meal.

You will notice that some recipes call for you to omit key elements in order to make the nature even better, but anyone who knows the texture of a true, authentic biodiversity will recognise that it is all about the balance of many different flavours. Crustless alternatives are possible to make, but not recommended as they tend to be weak & lacking in structure, more prone to collapse as you bring them to the table.

For the pasture base;

For the filling;

Serve with carefully-selected, seasonal fresh vegetables, but go easy on them to leave plenty of room for more biodiversity. Many types of biodiversity made in the UK can be frozen and last all year but don’t rely too much on storage, as the results will degrade over time. If you get the correct balance there is no need to repeat the steps above, just keep on enjoying the results.

Whilst many hosts may push the boat out for special occasions and order in some biodiversity to impress their guests, it is important to maintain demand year-round to ensure a steady, continuous supply. There are lots of different garnishes and flavourings to ensure that it never becomes dull!

By Rosewood Farm, Dec 3 2016 05:21PM

You may have heard us talk about ‘Conservation Grazing’ in the past and not be exactly sure what it involves. In the simplest terms conservation grazing is the keeping of animals with the primary objective being the management of a wildlife habitat, as opposed to rearing for meat or dairy production.

The process involves raising animals on the land in a way that mimics once common farming methods in order to preserve or recreate biodiverse grassland habitats. These methods have fallen out of favour over the years as farming techniques have changed. With new machinery, chemicals and breeds of livestock we have been able to produce food which better matches the long supply-chain, convenience markets of the modern world. The problem is that the rate of change has been so rapid that evolution hasn’t been able to keep pace and an overall loss of biodiversity (plant, insect and animal life) is inevitable.

One solution to biodiversity loss is to set aside land that can ‘go back to nature’. The problem with this approach is that nature has adapted to cope alongside farming for the past 10,000 years. Some species have been lost completely whilst others have changed their anatomy and behaviour in order to survive. The Lower Derwent Valley contains many important examples of habitats shapd by thousands of years of farming. As we cannot bring back extinct species nor recreate the exact conditions that existed before we, as a species, began to farm, then we can only ever create a new, modified habitat that may have more life than intensive farmland but lacks much by way of diversity of life.

The back to nature approach also has one other major obstacle - us. At the dawn of farming there were just 5 million people on the planet and the first cities were no more than large villages of today. Aside from food production we have greatly changed the landscape in a way that we aren’t willing to sacrifice with housing, drainage, roads and other infrastructure that would also need to be removed to recreate nature as it was.

The Lower Derwent Valley is famed for it's biodiverse grasslands
The Lower Derwent Valley is famed for it's biodiverse grasslands

Conservation efforts therefore tend to focus on preserving and linking up the small pockets of habitats which remain in the modern landscape. The majority of species, although threatened, do still exist and are able to repopulate suitable areas when available. Humans have used animals as a source of food, power and many different materials throughout history so it is no wonder that so many habitats have been shaped by livestock over millennia.

It’s easy to forget that prior to the industrial revolution the only way people could travel or move things over land beyond a walking pace was by animal power. Cultivating the land & moving goods all involved oxen, trained cattle, and later horses to provide the motive power. This was renewable energy but it did require lots of grazing for the many cattle and horses, which had a profound effect on our landscape. The land was also a lot wetter in the days before mass drainage and suitably dry arable land was in short supply. Fortunately grazing animals were able to utilise wetter or seasonally flooded grazing lands that would be unsuitable for cultivated crops.

Grazing; the eating of the leaves by either nibbling or ripping (depending upon species) by the animal allows light to reach the ground. New seedlings and less competitive grasses and wildflowers then stand significantly more chance of thriving. Many ground nesting wild birds such as lapwing require short, open grasses in which to nest and rear their young and hares in particular favour the fresh, nutritious growth to feed on throughout the year.

Grazing; creates nesting sites & increases chick survival for bird species
Grazing; creates nesting sites & increases chick survival for bird species

Trampling; the parts of the plant that aren’t eaten are crushed by the weight of the animals walking over them. This also helps to allow more light to reach the ground surface and ensures that dead and decaying matter is pressed into contact with the ground. Invertebrates and soil microbes can then more easily consume the plant and incorporate the important carbon element into the soil.

Trampling; soil contact is important to lock up carbon in the soils
Trampling; soil contact is important to lock up carbon in the soils

Dunging; the indigestible parts of the plants pass straight through the animal to be deposited on the ground. In addition to recycling nutrients back into the soils for subsequent plant growth, dung piles are also home to over 250 different invertebrate species in the UK. Animals which are not routinely treated with insecticides to control internal parasites produce much healthier dung with more insects that provide food for many birds,bats and larger mammals such as badgers and foxes.

Dung; chemical-free & full of insects, a vital food source for many birds
Dung; chemical-free & full of insects, a vital food source for many birds

A greater variety of different sward heights and types are created by animals than by mechanical cutting and changes in the species, timing and duration of grazing are all used to produce the desired effect for wildlife. Animals which are perfectly adapted to grazing are much more efficient and the sheer scale of the task means that there aren’t enough human volunteers to manage the sites by hand.

At Rosewood we have ponies, goats and sheep used in conservation grazing but the stars of the show are cattle. Due to the way they graze, and their size, cattle are best suited to grazing and trampling some of the roughest, overgrown pasture & turning it back into productive, biodiverse habitat. Ponies and sheep nibble rather than rip the foliage with their tongues so they are better suited to fine tuning the shorter swards after the cattle have passed through.

The LDV is one of the top three sites for Snipe in the British Isles
The LDV is one of the top three sites for Snipe in the British Isles

Grazing animals tend to breed each year and numbers fluctuate on an annual basis through a combination of predation and shortages of fodder in winter. This ensures that only the fittest animals go on to breed the next generation. As farmers we are more protective of our animals than mother nature, managing their grazing and making hay to ensure that they can survive the winter and create a surplus. Unfortunately cattle numbers here in the Lower Derwent Valley have dropped significantly over the past decade as eating habits have changed and farmers have found it more difficult to justify keeping livestock. Unfortunately this has had a knock-on effect on the wildlife value of the meadows.

Increasing biodiversity remains the primary goal for conservation grazing and provides the greatest amount of satisfaction but unfortunately satisfaction alone doesn’t provide for the upkeep for the herd. To enable this to continue wesell meat and other produce to help fund the whole process and the more meat we sell, the more habitat we can maintain. You can do your bit for nature without even leaving your home. It really is that simple!

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.

By Rosewood Farm, Oct 28 2015 02:41AM

Autumn may be with us now, but here's a little reminder of summer.

We took five minutes out of our day in June, while tending the cattle down on the Ings, to capture a short film of two young Roe deer (Capreolus capreolus) investigating the hay & hedgerows in the next field. It's not unusual for us to see Roe deer while we're moving the sheep & cattle around the farm, in the Ings and particulary on Allerthorpe Common but it was a rare coincidence that they came so close to us out in the open field when I had the camera to hand.

For more information about Roe deer, visit the British Deer Society website.

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