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Traditional farming methods create haven for wildlife

Farmland cared for by The National Trust in South Wales has been transformed into a haven for rare animals, birds and wildflowers after the introduction of a pioneering new project involving traditional 1940s farming methods.

A stretch of coastline near the spectacular Worms Head in Rhossili has been restored to its former glory after ‘strip field’ farming was reintroduced, with flower crops planted alongside more traditional arable crops and wildflower meadows across 45 hectares.

Using banks to divide fields, strip field farming helps deflect the wind and retain moisture, which in turn protects the crops. The use of this method has resulted in the return of wildlife to the land, including 21 varieties of butterfly and 10 species of bumble bee.

The project has helped boost wildlife populations by as much as 300 per cent, with a stunning array of rare birds such as the grasshopper warbler, common linnet and hen harriers and butterflies including the small blue, grayling and wall brown butterflies all returning to their former habitat.

Four National Trust rangers and 80 volunteers have spent the last 12 months faithfully recreating the 12th Century patchwork of fields on the land, known as The Vile, creating 2,000 metres of new banks and new hedges which had previously been removed after the Second World War in favour of modern, intensive farming methods.

Flowering crops, including 400,000 sunflowers and poppies now sit alongside crops of millet, wheat, oats, buckwheat, spelt, linseed and barley, with scarce wildflowers including cornflower and corn marigold..

Alan Kearsley-Evans, Countryside Manager for the National Trust says: “It’s fantastic to see such results in just the first year to returning to this way of farming.

“We have simply reverted to farming sustainably, like we did back in 1945, and with astounding results.  It doesn’t cost us any more – in fact, in time it will save us money as we won’t need to rely on any other inputs – our method of crop rotation and harvesting actually makes the crops self-controlling.

“Every crop has been planted for a reason with wildlife the outright winner with each field benefitting a vast variety of invertebrates and birds throughout the year.

“We know that our farm is very small, but the principle of what we’re doing and the results could be applied to large intensive farms.  We aim to prove in a few years, just how viable this method is and to showcase the many benefits it delivers.”

The plan next year is to rotate the crops and allocate a further two or three of the strip fields to lavender and to introduce bee hives to create honey. Pathways have now been created across The Vile to encourage visitors to see the new crops and wildlife.

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