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By Rosewood Farm, Feb 12 2017 04:54PM

Storytime from the farm this Sunday as Natalie relates the ongoing Saga of Seavy Carr:

When we released 80 cows onto 80 acres of overgrown nothing, I remember thinking it was maybe a good idea to ask the local hunt if they could help us round them back up again! Dexters are extremely lively cattle and love to give us a nice bit of exercise whenever they can. Such a large area, full of bogs, definitely gives them the upper hand! Unfortunately, I did nothing about that idea and my worst fears came true - three humans were all we had to bring them back in. Rob and Paul were good cross country runners at school. I was always last. Those two would make good hunt horses, if they were horses, but I'd be a plough horse...

A bit of water is no problem for Dexter cattle
A bit of water is no problem for Dexter cattle

Things could not be put off any longer though, for a couple of reasons. The first was our TB test. Even though we are in one of the lowest risk areas, we still have to be tested every four years, no argument. The second was that there had been a mix up and a cow had ended up having a calf out there. Luckily, being a tough-ass Dexter, mother and baby were absolutely fine but we were naturally worried about her having been on such a poor diet - only our non childbearing animals were supposed to be out there!

Unfortunately, we got very delayed getting everything organised and it was all shunted to the day before the TB test meaning we could afford absolutely no failures in the rounding up process. To make things that bit harder, the morning brought thick fog meaning we couldn't actually see any cows. All this meant the round up didn't begin until near 4pm, at which time I had to leave to take our daughter to her dance lesson (she loves her dancing so skipping it isn't an option!).

This was *really* tricky, because the piece of ground is crisscrossed with ditches which are all brimming at this time of year. Cows can simply barrel through them, but humans can't unless they want to soak their wellies. Our plan had hinged on sending Rob to the far end, using Paul as 'bait' calling to the cows. The lads and their cows have co-evolved together for over 20 years and just a call from one of them is enough to bring them running for the promise of fresh grass - they don't listen to me! When we move the sheep the roles are reversed, they will happily run to me and the lads bring up the rear instead. So I was supposed to take over the pushing from behind when the cows had forded the main dyke, leaving Rob on dry land at the far end. In the event, 'good luck out there' was all I could say and I had to leave them to it!

Grazing has created some open habitat; ideal nesting sites for wading birds
Grazing has created some open habitat; ideal nesting sites for wading birds

I did however pick up a bucket of feed when I collected our daughter and hopped out to drop it off at the site on our way to her lesson. Rosewood bred cows don't know what feed is, they spend their lives birth to death only eating forage; we do have some bought in cows though, and they certainly remember what it is to be fed! I thought the feed may help.

I got an enormous stroke of luck when I dropped the bucket off. Rob and Paul were nowhere to be seen, pushing the stragglers out of the far corner, but the frontrunners of the herd had already reached the corral. There wasn't much I could do to help, but I thought of a plan that may help after I'd left - I rattled the bucket and the nearest cow, a big red galleon of a bought in cow, immediately and joyfully ran to the bucket and stuck her head in. I gave her a mouthful, then carried the bucket into the corral, climbed out and placed the bucket on the other side of the fence to the greedy cow. Now she knew the feed was there, she was bound to go in confidently when the rest of the herd had been collected, and would lead them in!

I didn't get to see the moment of glory, but a text from Rob later confirmed that the plan had worked brillantly and my hastily arranged sleepover for our daughter at Grandma's while we spent the night chasing cows through dykes in the dark wasn't necessary after all. Paul had remarked though that that was probably the limit of our luck for the forseeable. He was right, because the rain had started and once the first load of cows was in the box, our little old tractor simply slithered in place and couldn't drag the load out.

Homeward bound; the cows are used to their bi-annual tractor-taxi
Homeward bound; the cows are used to their bi-annual tractor-taxi

There was a little bit of luck left, though. While Rob and Paul scratched their heads in the dark and rain, a pair of headlights appeared on the little road going past. It was a pickup, and it slowed at the sight of the bogged tractor. It was a neighbouring arable farmer we work in conjunction with, helping him fulfill his environmental obligations. He was shaking his head at the insanity of what we were up to, but did remark on how well our cows looked on such notoriously poor ground and offered to send a lad round with one of his much bigger tractors to tow us out. If he hadn't, we'd probably still be out there now!

At 5.30am I was awake, being asked for a drink by a four year old. At first I assumed Rob was beside me but on second glance the bed was empty. I winced - this meant there must have been a problem. At about 7 he turned up and told me about the numerous punctures they had suffered during the many trips to ferry 80 cows back to the farm. Rob was falling asleep talking to me so I shunted him off to bed and went out to help Paul create a handling system ready for the vet at 9. Paul was clumsy and slow through lack of sleep but refused coffee and between us we managed to set things up and keep the vet happy.

...Then we did it all again a few days later, but I'm happy to report we have passed another TB test and the first grazing of Seavy Carr is done!

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, Jan 23 2017 01:38PM

We love a bit of mythbusting at Rosewood. We also occupy a strange kind of hinterland, with militant ‘Cowspiracy’ viewers on one side and our own industry on the other; we sympathise with both, but fit in with neither. Whilst we defend the role livestock can play turning around the environmental damage done, we are under no illusions that some practises from some farmers and companies are far from ideal and have caused this damage. In a change from our usual defence against Cowspiracy disciples, the Peterson Farm Bros. blog and accompanying meme of ’17 myths about Agriculture in 2017’ handed us the ideal opportunity to do some mythbusting of our own in the other direction.

Some of the 17 points raised we agree with of course – we (famously) don’t believe that veganism is an effective answer to the sustainability issues of our food system, and we don’t believe that meat and dairy are inherently unhealthy. We also don’t believe that ‘Organic’ is always healthier or safer. What is healthy will vary from person to person, organic and conventional methods vary, a lot, and human beings are actually a very resilient, successful species so it takes something quite extreme in our food to make it actually ‘unsafe’.

Some of the others we partially agree with – not all farmers are uncaring to their animals or the environment, but it’s simply a shocking lie to pretend that no individuals exist in the farming industry who do not care about welfare or the environment…we’ve met them! The key, as always, if consumers don’t want these people to continue, is to get to know your farmer/s!

But, that still leaves us with 14 mythbusts to mythbust.

GM or not maize is an all-or-nothing crop providing little wildlife habitat
GM or not maize is an all-or-nothing crop providing little wildlife habitat

The Peterson Brothers focus their pro-GMO argument on safety. This doesn’t really bust any myths about their “evilness” though. Very, very few consumers out there are concerned about the safety of GMOs, the industry just tells us we should not be scared and then demonstrates how safe they are…in order to neatly sidestep the point, exactly as the PFBros have done. The “evil” perceived in GM comes from their close link to Monsanto and companies like them. GM are a big business thing, I can’t cook them up in my backyard, which is why they are inextricably linked to big business, just like our food supply will be if we come to rely on them.

The PFBros have a good stab at making Monsanto appear cute and cuddly, saying that they don’t set out to harm the environment. This is a similar argument to the ‘safety/non safety’ one related to GMOs – it tells us nothing. When we walk most of us don’t set out to kill snails, but in our single minded mission to get from A to B, we inevitably step on some. People are snails to Monsanto & Co. Their mission is to make money and unfortunately for the rest of us, what makes them money isn’t always what keeps us or our ecosystems happy and healthy.

Monsanto etc. don’t force anyone to use their products directly, the PFBros are correct on that, there’s no guns pointed at heads. But, they can give your competitors a fossil-fuel based shortcut to short term higher profits, putting you out of business unless you get on board with them and compete. They can tie you into contracts raising chickens for 2p. They can use their economic might and excellent lawyers to suck you into their seed and GM patent wars if you refuse to get on board. Hey, maybe I’ll get a lawsuit for saying this? That would shut me up real quick, I can’t afford it. They can, despite the PFBros protestations of Monsanto’s relative poverty (just how much money does one need to be considered rich these days?!).

Perpetuating the myth of overpopulation is another such tool in the arsenal of making people OK with exploitation from these companies, one the PFBros are keen to hop aboard with. Everyone worried about population growth should stop what they are doing and watch ROSLING’S WORK right now. They should also stop a minute to consider what’s going on with farming right now, amidst all the wailing about this population boom. Low prices, that’s what. Farmers struggling and going out of business, whatever their crop, left right and centre. It’s very simple supply and demand – if food was in short supply, farmers would be makin’ hay right now. In fact, farm incomes in the US keep on dropping and things are no better here in the UK.

It’s a story repeated the world over. For over a decade we’ve heard there is a dairy shortage, and there’s still no sign of that actually kicking in anytime soon. We overproduce food like it’s going out of fashion, and we waste a third of it, just because we can. To our mind at Rosewood, it does not feel like we are at a point of desperation that justifies burning up our dwindling resources even faster. Because that’s all the ‘lower inputs’ of GM and chem based agricultures does. It’s not enough to pat yourselves on the back for using less of a finite resource we don’t actually need to use anyway, like the PFBros do while they ‘bust’ the 7th myth.

It also strikes us at Rosewood as a little stupid to base the food supply of this monster population on resources which WILL run out at some point. Will all the profit now be worth the turmoil and suffering then? But then, the PFBros are remarkably blasé about such things. In their ‘bust’ of myth 3 – that organic is the only sustainable way to farm; they seem to be arguing that because we need diversity, everything farmers ever choose to do should be above reproach. We should have no brakes, no limits, no questioning of our decisions. Everything any farmer does is legit. Does anyone really think that is a desirable reality?

But then, the PFBros do set the bar remarkably low for beginning to worry about environmental impact, as they explain that farmer’s pesticide sprays are 95% water and very little of what isn’t actually goes onto the crop. It is, apparently, irrelevant that the bit that isn’t water is poison potent enough to kill insects and so on. While the PFBros are quick to argue for diversity amongst farmers, apparently this does not extend to the rest of the living world.

Insect-life aplenty even in our most 'intensive' grass crops at Rosewood
Insect-life aplenty even in our most 'intensive' grass crops at Rosewood

Likewise, monocropping is apparently nothing to worry about. They claim it’s all OK because farmers will, for example, rotate three crops on a piece of land. I don’t know how much the PFBros know about nature, but 3 species, one at a time, is a totally woeful total compared to, well, anything anywhere else apart from sterile desert. Our own pasture contains 94 species of plant and we feel a bit happier about our biodiversity figures, but perhaps that’s just us? Maybe ‘nature’ can function on just 3 species in rotation?

They are right that factory farming is the most efficient way to raise animals. As long as you don’t take all inputs and impacts into account, of course. In terms of kilos of flesh churned out for £s in, sure, it wins hands down. But in terms of energy in vs energy out, or acreage used to produce Xkg, it only works with some creative mathematical and logical gymnastics. That’s without even beginning to measure the environmental cost which of course, farmers and Monsanto don’t pick up the bill for. Try taking into account all the land used for all the resources which go into a factory farm, all the machinery and transport it takes to make those pieces match up, it all falls down. That’s why we’re stuck with good old tried and true organic even when the 9billion get here. Because even if there isn’t enough meat to go round without factory farming – tough. We can’t magic up more fossil fuels!

We’ll write a blog specifically dealing with the maths and efficiency of ‘factory’ vs ‘extensive’ livestock another day, since it is very important as a lot of both anti-livestock and pro-factory farming arguments hinge on the idea that factory farming is most ‘efficient’. Which should, in itself, tell the logical person that the truth lies somewhere in between and that neither livestock-free or factory farming supplies the answer, but rather the same mixed system we’ve relied on for millennia…

We do however agree with the PFBros that labelling is a minefield, but the PFBros apply their classic ‘point-missing’ justification to defending a complete lack of labelling beyond ‘beef’. All cattle are, according to them, “grassfed” because they eat some grass….If the PFBros can’t even comprehend a world or system in which cattle receive no grain at all in life, no wonder they don’t understand ‘grassfed’ at all. To clarify, all cattle eat some grass and most eat rather a lot of grain throughout their lives, and it’s the lack of grain and all its associated problems that consumers are, rightly in our opinion, concerned about. Our own cattle live on nothing but grass from conception to slaughter. That’s grass fed. Not the ‘grass and grain fed’ which most cattle are. Nor is it simply ‘grass finished’ as the PFBros suggest it should be called.

When we say grass fed, we mean grass fed
When we say grass fed, we mean grass fed

Whilst happily sailing past the point, the PFBros take the opportunity to gloss over an important issue with grassfeeding – the stage of life in which the cattle receive the grain. Grass finished (grain early on, grass before slaughter) is far more preferable for those concerned to the feedlot model the PFBros defend (grass early on, grain to finish) as the benefits of grass and the issues with high grain diets are quickly lost as cattle adapt to either. For example, high grain cows put onto grass lose 80% of the harmful e. coli in their gut within just two weeks –imagine what happens over months.

Labels have their limitations however and as always, the only true way to make sure you are voting with that £ in your pocket every time you eat for the countryside and community you want to live amongst, is to follow that chain and get to know the producers directly. If you are locked out of a chicken shed due to ‘biosecurity’, ask if that sits right with you, whether chickens should be able to survive the same airspace as human beings. If you can’t have access to records of chemical use or mortality rates, what does that tell you? Are you truly happy sending money to Monsanto and the like? We are all about choice at Rosewood – eat GM if you want, eat meat if you want, eat vegan if you want, just please, look into the production behind it and check it’s what you really believe in.

By Rosewood Farm, Jan 16 2017 01:54PM

I wasn’t planning to blog so soon after my last installment about Planet Earth, but then a report, revealing how birds are being cropped out of the British Countryside, dropped into my inbox. I felt it was important to share this news as so often we can easily feel like our contribution is insignificant when it comes to preventing and reversing climate change. This is different, there really are lots of things we can do to halt the decline of farmland birds and their habitat.

You may be forgiven for thinking that we are anti-arable farming here at Rosewood after years of us going on about how bad crops are for the countryside and how much better grassfed is for us, the environment and the animals. So you may be surprised to learn that we do actually like some veg with our meat, and we don’t think humans should turn into carnivores - we just think that the balance has been somewhat tipped in the wrong direction.

I don’t know any farmers who actively enjoy destroying biodiversity but the level of passion for our wildlife varies among them from apathetic to absolute dedication. The problem we face is that the market doesn’t offer many opportunities to reward farmers for having the most biodiverse farms, in fact it is largely due to the personal interest of farmers & conservationist that we have any wildlife left in the UK at all.

Sprout aficionado John Clappison produces 5% of the UK's sprout crop
Sprout aficionado John Clappison produces 5% of the UK's sprout crop

It was during a meeting with one farmer last year about our plans to graze his recreated wet grassland that the enthusiasm really hit home. John is an arable farmer with a real passion for growing brussels sprouts, but it turned out his passion also extended to taking shots (with his mobile phone's camera) of the Lapwings living in his sprout crop! But when was the last time you saw ‘Lapwing-friendly’ sprouts on the supermarket shelf?

Post-war governments & the EU have certainly played a big part in both habitat loss and restoration over the years, and opinion remains divided over whether Brexit will be good or bad for nature. At Rosewood our own experience, taking part in the EU-funded Countryside Stewardship Scheme for ten years, was a mixed bag. On the one hand the capital grants were great - they helped us to restore the hedgerows that had been lost due to years of neglect (as opposed to active destruction).

A new mixed-species hedgerow planted at Rosewood Farm
A new mixed-species hedgerow planted at Rosewood Farm

The other side of the coin was that we were farming by dates and numbers. Prescriptions were put in place to stop us grazing after x-date and not before y-date, not taking into account the weather, ground cover or alternative grazing/housing for the animals. ‘Farming by numbers’ was both practically unsustainable and took absolutely no account of whether we were achieving our wildlife objectives or not. If I could change one thing about the system it would be that any incentives are paid for results and let farmers farm in the best way they see fit to achieve those results.

Fast-forward to the present day and we can see the legacy of ‘farming by numbers’, coupled with unsustainably low prices for livestock, in the number of local farmers who are giving up grazing in the Ings. There has also been a [not so] coincidental shift in what the market is demanding from farmers too. We all know about the effect that the cheap food policy has had on farming but less often mentioned are the unrealistic specifications that farm produce has to conform to. In the good times the prices paid for produce may be reasonable, but there is virtually no demand for the produce which falls outside of the spec so it fetches a much lower price. This has shaped the countryside for years with farmers forced to produce what they can sell, not necessarily what benefits their land and biodiversity.

Lapwing (Vanellus vanellus) the largest member of the Plover family
Lapwing (Vanellus vanellus) the largest member of the Plover family

Hugh’s War on Waste challenged us to start demanding wonky veg to cut food waste. Not only does this represent a waste of time and energy in growing and transporting food that we will never eat but that veg is taking up valuable space once inhabited by our farmland birds. As we spray and cultivate crops in pursuit of perfection we are actively wiping out the insects, seeds and nesting sites on which our farmland birds depend.

This is why at Rosewood we sell-direct, as we have always kept Dexter cattle that are much smaller than most breeds of cattle. Dexters are the ‘wonky’ veg of the beef world, so wonky that you won’t find them in the supermarkets at all. Ironically we find that our customers find that the smaller joints and steaks suit them better for home cooking, when they are given the choice. We have also found that Dexters, unlike the supermarket specification-hitting larger breeds, are ideally suited to grazing the diverse and damp grasslands of the Ings without causing damage to the soil.

Redshank (Tringa totanus) is a target species for the new wet grassland
Redshank (Tringa totanus) is a target species for the new wet grassland

So, what does this mean for the birds? Well, the other advantage of being in direct contact with you, the consumer, is that we can talk about the problem of declining bird numbers and how eating more beef really can help us to address this. Our passion has always been grassland and grazing livestock, so we’re not planning on becoming arable farmers anytime soon, and much of our land is unsuitable for cultivation anyway. Overs the years we have amassed a wealth of knowledge and experience in managing the land and livestock together for the benefit of wild birds and by working with farmers like John, we are able to spread our impact over the wider arable landscape too.

So here are a few things you can do to help us to put the birds back into the British countryside;

- Write to your MP to put birds into Brexit by letting them know that you want to end the ‘farming by numbers’ approach

- Help us to invest in new hedgerows, ponds and bird boxes with our 'Veggie' donation box

- Keep buying the wonky veg, and serve it with some wonky beef

- Take part in the RSPB’s Big Garden Bird Watch on the 28th - 30th January

- Share this blog with all your friends and inspire others to bring the birds back!

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 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...

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 17 2016 12:12AM

Monday came around and it was time to select two cattle to make the journey across the road to the abattoir. At thirty months of age these animals have both spent three summers at Rosewood grazing some of the most species rich grasslands in the country. Their meat, offal and bones will feed many families over the Christmas period, and their hides will be tanned in a UK tannery next year, the proceeds from which provides our main source of income.

Last week we made a Facebook post about swapping turkey for Rosewood Farm beef this festive season and advising our customers to order early if they wanted something special for the big day. The post attracted some criticism from a couple of vegans who thought we should instead be advocating a meat-free meal this Christmas.

It’s true that we don’t need to kill and eat these animals to maintain the grasslands, they could do exactly the same job if they were allowed to live out their days on the farm. The problem is that taking care of their needs does take up a lot of time and money and despite launching our Meat Free Monday box to help fund the slaughter-free ideal, after nine months we are yet to receive any donations.

One crop that was suggested as an alternative for the ethical eater was almonds. I'm sure many of these nuts will be consumed over the festive season by meat eaters and vegans alike. It turns out that most, 1 in 5, of the world's almonds are produced in the US state of California, a staggering 935,000 acres of them, equivalent to 25 times the area of our remaining UK meadows or one-quarter of Yorkshire.

I have nothing against almonds per se, but suggesting that they are a better ethical alternative to Rosewood beef seems crazy (you could even say that it's nuts) when you take a look at how California produces those crops. As Philip Lymbery recalls in his book, Farmageddon, the almond orchards are far from idyllic;

"Not the chirp of a bird or the buzz of a bee. It was eerie. The distant thud of a helicopter breaks the silence; an aerial crop-sprayer dousing the carpets of monoculture in every direction with chemicals to keep nature at bay."

A true monoculture of California Almonds, keeping nature at bay
A true monoculture of California Almonds, keeping nature at bay

Eliminating wildlife completely from our farms is one way to avoid them eating our crops, and a very common one at that, but at Rosewood we take the opposite approach. Our aim is to encourage as many plants, insects, birds and mammals as possible to thrive alongside our cattle and sheep. It means we can produce food and allow wildlife to flourish without competition between the two.

Even if you can forgive the way the almond crop is produced (it’s a big ask, but run with me on this one…) to call them ‘vegan’ you must also ignore how the crop is actually used. We humans only eat the kernel which represents just 14.5% of the crop by weight (as a comparison, a beef animal will yield at least 33% of edible meat). The remaining 85.5% of the almond consists of the hull and shell, which are used as livestock feed and bedding respectively. This scenario isn’t restricted to almonds either, other meat & dairy alternatives such as coconut and soy products also rely upon intensive livestock operations to provide a use and market for the by-products, something that is never mentioned in the promotional material.

Although almonds and other nuts may provide the basis for an alternative christmas meal, we’d find it very difficult to replace the cows with nut trees here in the Lower Derwent Valley. The suggestion that we should produce crops instead of meat relies upon the notion that all land is the same and its use may simply be switched from one crop to another. Nut crops require a well-drained soil - not something we have much of in the wetlands of East Yorkshire!

Assuming it was possible to grow almonds in the Ings, just as all land is not created equal, neither are all crops. Proteins are made up of a series of building blocks called amino acids. Our bodies can synthesize some but not all. The others, essential amino acids, must be consumed as part of our diet in order to grow and repair the muscles in our bodies. Proteins which contain the essential amino acids in the ideal proportions are regarded high quality proteins. Almonds score a worthy 55 out of 100 on protein quality, but beef is way in front at 94.

Even if both protein sources were complete (ie 100+) because of the protein quantity of each, to receive your full daily requirement you would still need to eat at least 227g of almonds as opposed to just 151g of beef. The good news for the nuts is that you could gain 66% of your daily calorie intake v only 19% for the beef. So on the Rosewood diet you’d have to force down a few more mince pies & chocolate to make up the difference!

As interesting as nutrition is, our food choices remain much more about our experiences and how they make us feel, rather than facts and figures, though. Eliminating animal products from our diet feels like the right thing to do because there is no getting away from the uncomfortable truth that an animal has died to provide you with meat. The less obvious truth is that the only way to remove death from food production is to eliminate almost all life, as the Californian almonds growers seem to have achieved.

Meanwhile, in the Lower Derwent Valley
Meanwhile, in the Lower Derwent Valley

Pioneering US farmer Joel Salatin is well known for his inspirational thoughts [pdf] on what our food system should look and feel like;

"Food production should be aromatically and aesthetically pleasing. [...] Our senses have been given to us for a reason. How do we know we have infection in a wound? It smells bad. If our food production system stinks, it doesn’t bring much happiness."

With that thought fresh in my mind I decided it was time I took a break from writing this blog and went outside for a walk to check the cows. The sights, sounds and smells of life in the grasslands of the Lower Derwent Valley are always a pleasure and the primary reason I choose to do this work. While words and figures can easily be manipulated online it is much more difficult to fake the experience of walking across a landscape full of wildlife. Perhaps that is why our Facebook vegans choose to believe their own version of reality rather than experience ours.

By Rosewood Farm, Oct 24 2016 05:00PM

Avid Rosewood followers will know that we were awarded many more acres of grazing on the nature reserve we work on, including an area known as 'Seavy Carr' which we were particularly excited to get, as it is the roughest of the rough and represents the kind of real challenge we enjoy getting our teeth into! To make the locally notorious Seavy Carr productive would be the biggest test of our techniques and given the current neglected state of it which has seen the numbers of wading birds drop to all-time lows, seeing the snipe return as a result of our actions would be like winning the Oscars for us!

As soon as we took on Seavy Carr, another 80acres on top flowed our way from other local farmers who feel they can not justify the expense and trouble of keeping cattle on their more marginal land. We need more mouths out there, to halt the dominance of rushes and hairgrass and stop the encroaching scrub to bring back the redshanks, the snipe, the otters, owls and harriers. But we can only afford or justify more cattle and sheep if we have the meat orders to back it up.

However, even in the unlikely event we somehow magically doubled our business overnight and can justify going out and doubling the size of the cattle herd AND sheep flock, we're still going to be under our carrying capacity. So, there is a little space here for a helpful side-project...

...which is why as we type 5 Exmoor pony mares are winging their way up the M1 from Exmoor to Seavy Carr to begin the Rosewood Herd. No, pony meat will not be making it's way into the shop (ironically, if the British public could get its head round pony meat we could justify keeping many more, but until then the numbers will probably remain in the single digits...just sayin').

Autumn, Antelope, Nectar, Natterjack & Rowan
Autumn, Antelope, Nectar, Natterjack & Rowan

Exmoor ponies seem to have a lot in common with our Dexter cattle. They are both small, they are both freakishly tough, able to survive on rough vegetation in exposed areas, and both freakishly strong; Exmoors are able to carry an adult with ease and anyone who's tried to hold onto a bolting Dexter at a show will tell you about their strength despite their size!

They are also both thought to be animals that our Bronze Age ancestors would have recognised. The exact story having been lost to time, bone and DNA evidence currently suggest that both are the closest living relatives of the 'British Hill Pony', used by the Celts to draw their chariots, and the 'Celtic Shorthorn' respectively. Archeology is just now revealing what a boom-time this period was for our fen-like, marshy landscape and the important role livestock played within this culture. We feel that Exmoors will be right at home here!

Our first 5 mares fresh off the trailer from Exmoor
Our first 5 mares fresh off the trailer from Exmoor

Just as Dexters nearly came to grief in the past as modern farming moved on without them, Exmoors were so very nearly lost forever at one point. During the late 40s, there was perhaps no more than 50 worldwide in total. The ponies had survived Henry VIII's cull of small horses and provided transport for the Exmoor locals since time immemorial, but as motor vehicles came in, roads improved and people got hungry during WWII, gradually more and more were lost.

Ours are coming up from the historic Anchor herd. In 1818 the crown sold off Exmoor Forest and Sir Thomas Acland, the outgoing warden, took just 30 ponies and founded the herd now known as Anchor. WWII nearly finished them off however when a butcher rounded up all forty animals to illegally sell the meat elsewhere. Luckily, a dozen animals escaped and thus, the herd survived. Their plucky ancestors are now founding our herd!

They look so strangely 'right' in this landscape...
They look so strangely 'right' in this landscape...

Exmoors are still struggling. Still classified as 'endangered' by the RBST, which is only one step away from the dreaded 'critical' category. Like all our native breeds of equine, they seem to be struggling to find a place in the modern world. We're not sure what the answer is, as the days of animal transport are firmly over and Britain remains resistant to horsemeat. Few have the budget or inclination to keep horses for fun and there are many British native breeds which need viable populations in order to save them. But for now, Rosewood is honoured and pleased to be in a position to offer a home to a genetic pool of these ancient British ponies.

As for Seavy Carr, the icing on our cake was to be told that Natural England intend to construct a car park and viewing platform there so that visitors can add it to their tour of the reserve. Wheldrake and Duffield Ings are already firmly established favourites with birdwatchers and we hope that Seavy Carr can become a favourite for its Dexters and Exmoors, showing the grazers which create the habitat for waders and reminding people how important it is for these animals (and their keepers) to have a viable future, for the sake of our wildlife.

By Rosewood Farm, Sep 13 2016 01:42PM

Wednesday will see the publication of the biggest survey of the UK’s wild plants, insects and animals ever undertaken. The State of Nature Report 2016 pools data from 50 leading conservation groups. We already know that it’s not going to make for a happy story, as this week’s Farmers Guardian put it, “[the report] is certain to make uneasy reading for farmers” - but not this one.

The report busts apart any notion we may have held that crops are the more eco friendly option than meat. Farmland is identified as the area with the worst record in species loss, and one area in particular - crop production. Of 1118 farmland species studied, 11% are facing extinction. Concurrent with the rise of the ‘eat less meat’ message, as consumers turn away from their sunday roast and towards ‘just a little bit of chicken’ in their sandwich or wrap, over 1000 hectares of pasture was converted to arable land between 2006 and 2012. I’ve tirelessly argued for many years that meat has the potential to be much more ‘green’ than crops, that it is reliance on crops that makes meat into an issue rather than the conservation tool that it can be when regenerative grazing practises like ours are brought into play.

But there is an even more important line to be erased than the one we drew between plants and animals. The FG article about the report talks of ‘battle lines drawn’ between farmers and environmentalists, but this is forgetting something. I’m a farmer and an environmentalist. Admittedly, there’s no question over which side of the line, if there must be one, I stand. I do have a family to feed in an area of high house prices and almost nonexistent employment outside agriculture. The thing is however, that I don’t think we should draw a line, or that we have to.

In our opinion here at Rosewood, a major failing of the stewardship incentives to date have been to treat conservation as a ‘crop’ with distinct areas set aside for ‘nature’ alongside intensive arable production. The result is small islands of different habitats between arable fields which, due to virtually non existent diversity, act as a road block to wildlife travelling between sites. What would be better is if we could resurrect the old blanket of habitat that used to stretch all over our island, the ‘inefficiencies’ as they came to be known of our food production providing scraps for wildlife of all types to thrive on.

There have been various government countryside stewardship schemes since the early-nineties to encourage farmers to retain and recreate hedgerows and pasture (did you notice that? pasture - animal feeding land, being encouraged for the sake of nature…). In 2013 we were approached by Natural England to graze an area of ex-arable land under one of these schemes on Allerthorpe Common that was in danger of turning to scrubland. Whilst financial incentives can help to recreate pasture on arable land, it’s a waste of money if the land isn’t then grazed, not to mention a missed opportunity for food production. We’ve now set all this right - the scrubland is held in check, food is being produced and it’s being done without subsidy/charitable donations, or fertiliser, or herbicide, or any of that stuff. That, to us, is perfection.

At Rosewood we are successfully integrating nature and food production, alongside each other. The majority on both sides - farmer and environmentalist - appear to believe it is impossible, but we beg to differ and are happy to demonstrate our reasoning to anyone who will listen.

As Simon Christian from Natural England puts it ‘Grazing with…Dexters, can have considerable conservation benefits…(Dexters) are often able to thrive on the semi-natural grassland and other habitats that are found on some of our most important nature conservation sites which require regular grazing to maintain their interest….Dexters are now successfully grazing species rich flood plain meadow grasslands within the Lower Derwent Valley National Nature Reserve.’ So, no complaints from Natural England on what we do, quite the opposite, and endorsement of your nature protection doesn’t come much higher than that!

In terms of survival as a farming business, we have been going for 20 years. We did not inherit our farm or start with any funding beyond what we had saved from working as tractor drivers or milkers. Our largest subsidy payout has been £3000 which might seem like a tidy sum, but actually probably only just covers the extra paperwork, tagging and other such things required to claim it, and our business most certainly is not reliant on it! No, our ability to carry on with all this solely comes through the sale of the produce obtained from these grasslands = you guys (thanks).

Fossil fuels were a quick fix, allowing us to overproduce. That made us feel clever, but pride comes before a fall. Now, we need to dust ourselves off and focus on developing techniques to up production, always with our ecosystem backdrop in mind. Not simply eeking out our dwindling supply of oil and leaving some future generation to deal with the fallout. The time is ripe for a change in attitude, for dropping the ‘battle lines’ between meat and crops and between farmers and environmentalists. In the past, a combination of animals and plants kept us fed without fossil fuels, in a time when larks were so numerous their tongues were a dish, when red kites were so common they were a pest, the equivalent of the urban fox today. It’s vital that the public help this process and actively support a new generation of ‘environmentalist farmers’, whatever they produce.

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