We are delighted to post a guest blog from Harriet Holloway who was our first conservation intern at The Grasslands Trust in 2010-11. Harriet takes the credit for our online advice leaflets. She says “I have always had a passion for nature and conservation since growing up on a conservation-oriented farm so an internship with a conservation charity seemed like the perfect next step for me after university.” Harriet is now studying for an MSc in Biodiversity Conservation.
I have been asked to write a guest blog so I thought I would write a bit about what is happening on our farm and how we try to farm with wildlife in mind. We farm 1100 acres on Salisbury Plain in Wiltshire; most of our land is used by the MoD for training and as a result is mainly grass rather than arable. Salisbury Plain is a perfect example of calcareous grassland and is the largest area of this habitat in western Europe at 38 000 hectares; this is a result of the MoD occupation as it prevents agricultural development.
We are an organic farm rearing cattle and sheep for meat, some of which we sell directly from our farm to local customers. All our animals are native breeds and we are active in the conservation of rare breeds, so not only are we active in wildlife conservation but also farm animal conservation! We find the hardy native breeds thrive much better on the chalk plain compared to larger, continental breeds. They are also lovely to look at!
The range of wildflowers and grasses on the Plain is vast as is the range of fauna that live there; one particular area on our farm has been designated a Wiltshire Wildlife Site due it’s diversity of flora which includes Harebell (Campanula rotundifolia), Sainfoin (Onobrychis viciifolia), Small Scabious (Scabiosa columbaria) and Pyramidal Orchid (Anacamptis pyramidalis). It is also full of anthills, which are a great indicator for ancient grasslands. Unfortunately due to poor fencing it hasn’t been grazed for three years and it is so steep that it can’t be mown. The grass has become thick and matted and some of the plants have no room to grow; we are now in the process of fencing it and hope to get cattle on there after the summer. It will be interesting to see what grows next year!
We have in the past converted arable fields to pasture and in the past couple of years have experienced some wonderful flowering displays. The restoration was done entirely through natural regeneration and each year the field was grazed by sheep up until May. Last year we found indicator species for high-quality calcareous grassland including three types of orchid (Common Spotted, Pyramidal and Bee Orchids), Yellow Rattle and Small Scabious. It has been a really successful restoration project and we love seeing these beautiful flowers thriving on our land.