In 2019, we told you about some of the amazing grazing animals that are working on
conservation grazing projects across Wales. Now for 2020, we’d love to highlight some of the wonderful graziers who look after these animals. We are really proud to work with these enthusiastic and determined people who are helping to put conservation grazing on the map.
This month it’s Sorcha and Brian Lewis. Sorcha is on the Welsh steering group of the Nature Friendly Farming Network.
Where in Wales are you?
We farm in the heart of the Elan Valley in Mid Wales.
What animals do you own?
We have some hefted Welsh Mountains on the hills grazing. Our in-bye land has some pretty precious and beautiful wildflower meadows and rhos pasture. Meadows need grazing for much of the year and then to be allowed to work their magic and grow in the summer season. The sheep we have on the meadow are usually Welsh mountain or Badger faced Welsh Mountain.
We also bought cattle after we won an award in the Nature of Farming awards, and on advice that some of the meadows could potentially be grazed by cattle to prevent the molinia grass and tree seedlings taking hold. A little light trampling was also of benefit to help marsh violet, which is a food plant for the plentiful small pearl bordered fritillary butterfly here. We have about 9 cows with some calves. Our cows are a bit of a mix of traditional Hereford and shorthorn.
Why did you become involved in conservation grazing?
We are involved in conservation grazing as we want to preserve our meadows as the generations before have done, to benefit the generations to come. The stock have an important role in managing the habitats on the farm and protecting the specialist species associated with them. The meadows have beautiful flowers that we do take public to see. There is globeflower, meadow thistle, greater butterfly orchid and wood bitter vetch to name a few. On some of the land there are lovely little wild mountain pansy which need some grazing to prevent the grass from out-competing them.
The cattle and sheep are such useful management tools on the ground and though stock can get much flack for the damage they can do when in the wrong place at the wrong time, they have huge ecological benefits when in the right place at the right time. They are the most sustainable way to manage habitats. The meadows here are only present because of the sheep/cattle and their importance for feeding stock in a landscape. I have often heard from a nearby farmer that meadows are the upland tools for the hill farmer.
What challenges have you faced and how have you overcome them?
Our biggest challenge has been trying to establish small trees when our cattle have other ideas! Cattle do have a tendency to munch and scratch against the stakes so we will need to review any future planting within the in-bye land.
Our cattle also have no respect for fences! We do still need to cattle proof some boundaries. There was a particular crab apple tree they had their eye on, so we had emergency cattle proofing to do in that case!
What is your favourite wildlife that you have seen whilst out stock checking?
We are very blessed, cuckoos are a regular. The rhos pasture and grassland on the farm is abundant in drinker moth caterpillars, an important part of the cuckoos diet. And with the meadows and the flush of insects on the farm we have many meadow pipits for cuckoos to cuckold!
We have house martins and swallows feeding over the meadows. The muck from the cattle is wormer-free and alive with invertebrates which are also of benefit to the curlew which come onto the farm to feed.
If you would like to feature as Grazier of the month or know of a worthy conservation grazier who deserves recognition, get in touch with PONT!