Dumble Farm Conservation Project
Dumble Farm is engaged in an extensive conservation project as part of the Countryside stewardship scheme, this is taking up half of the farm, creating new habitats to help protect Yorkshire’s fantastic wildlife.
Grazing with Highland cattle supports the conservation of genetic diversity in native breeds at risk, plus provides a suitable sward structure for nesting birds.
The wetlands are grazed by the Highland cattle with a carefully regulated stocking density. This ensures they create the correct conditions in preparation for wading birds, but do not disturb the birds once breeding. The cattle are all pedigree and registered with the Highland Cattle Society, by 2026 the fold will be at least 65 in number.
Some people may think conservation grazing sounds like a strange thing, aren’t cattle are bad for the environment? They trample the ground, eat all the rare plants and frighten the wildlife. This is of course a misconception. Livestock grazing is essential for the majority of the country’s most important wildlife habitats. Grazing animals often choose lusher plant species, which allows less competitive plants and wildflowers to thrive. Wildflowers attract insects that can be eaten by birds and mammals, some insects are pollinators and are essential for the survival of our native plants. When grazing, the cattle decide for themselves where to concentrate their efforts and this creates a mosaic of different sward heights and micro-habitats, this is further enhanced by cattle lying and rolling. This is very important for ground-nesting birds such as lapwing and snipe that need a variety of sward heights to rear their young successfully. Trampling by cattle creates areas of bare ground, this produces nurseries for seedlings that might not otherwise survive. Cows generate dung and this generates an ecosystem in its own right, a whole host of wildlife will colonize a cowpat - more than 250 species of insect can be found in or on cattle dung in the UK and these in turn provide food for birds, foxes and bats.
Highland cattle are the ideal choice for conservation grazing. They are hardy grazers - they will eat a wide range of vegetation unpalatable to most cattle, they live out in all seasons and weathers, and have a long breeding life. They are relatively light in weight and therefore reduce poaching of the ground, in spring they eat the succulent shoots of weeds we would otherwise have to control.
Each spring, we are holding areas of water in 75 acres of grassland, this will provide breeding and feeding grounds for declining wading bird species.
Dumble Farm is in a priority habitat for lapwing. To create the right conditions for lapwing to breed, we are managing the grassland by grazing with Highland cattle. We aim to maintain a mosaic habitat with 50%-70% short grass sward of less than 5cm, 20-30% of a medium sward ranging from 5-15cm and 10-20% of a longer sward ranging from 15-50cm consisting of scattered soft rush/grassy tussocks. Lapwing require short grass in which to nest so that they can see predators and defend their nests. Young chicks need tussocks of grass in which to hide from predators. Lapwing feed on worms and insects in wet mud. Ditches are being reprofiled to create shallow banks of water where the birds can feed. Only one side of the ditch is reprofiled in a year so the rich species of plant life is not lost. In the next few years the aquatic vegetation will grow and water levels will be high enough to provide the necessary standing water, no more than 30 cm below mean field level, between 1 March and 30 June. Scrapes are being dug during the summer of 2023, surface standing water in the scrapes will provide at least 150 m of wet edge per hectare in late March to June; at least 50% of the wet edge exposed as water/mud interface to promote invertebrate activity and allow chicks access to feed. Cattle hoof prints will provide the further scattered, muddy, bare ground that is required by the chicks for feeding.
Restoration work on an existing pond, plus the creation of three more ponds, will support a wide array of species and create a visual focus in the landscape.
The best ponds for wildlife have shallow margins with a fringe of vegetation and nearby plant cover for amphibians and insects with terrestrial life stages. Ponds have been shown to support more invertebrates than rivers. Terns can feed upon fish they contain, whilst swallows pick insects off the surface. The existing pond has Dumbles (Clubrush) growing around the edges, whilst the banks are covered in primroses in the spring. Restoration in the spring of 2023 comprised having a bank of trees removed to allow light from the south-west (an equivalent number of trees are to be planted in another area of the farm) and coppicing willows to the east. The coppiced tree branches will be used to create brash walls for mammal and insect habitats, or woven willow bird hide screens. We have laid tin sheets down to warm up in the sun and provide refuges for grass snakes. We have upcycled concrete blocks, drainage pipes and timber to build a hibernaculum for amphibians. We have left timber piles and built brash walls using coppiced wood to create homes for insects.
Restorative coppicing of overgrown trees will benefit bankside habitat.
Willow trees have been coppiced alongside the pond. This has caused rigorous regrowth, increasing the longevity of the trees and providing a more varied habitats for wildlife. Trees alongside the banks in the wetland area have been coppiced, these will be allowed to grow to no more than 2 metres, therefore minimising perching points for predators that may take wader bird chicks.
Scrapes and ditch restoration will establish raised water level for habitat creation.
The ditches are being re-profiled to create a variety of depths in the channel from 70 cm to 100 cm grading to a shallow, wet, marginal fringe. The profile of the bank slope will vary along the length of the ditch with most of the slopes between 30-45 degrees. This shallow muddy habitat is ideal for lapwing chicks. Scrapes provide areas of bare ground, designed to hold water in wet habitats. The scrapes have an irregular shape to maximise length of edge. The Highland cattle keep the edges muddy and they also love to paddle in them to keep cool.
The addition of nesting boxes will provide breeding opportunities for Barn owl, Kestral, Tree Sparrow and bats to name a few.
We have already put up two owl boxes, two kestrel boxes and a tree sparrow terrace. We are just starting work on bat boxes and aim to add many more nesting boxes using money from sponsorships.
We have planted 1.2 km of mixed native hedgerows and over 70 trees to provide food and shelter for wildlife, produce oxygen and store carbon.
The hedgerows link and extend existing hedgerows, they consist of native plants including hawthorn, blackthorn, hazel, holly, dog rose, guelder rose, field maple and spindle. In hedge trees and a bank of trees to the north of a new pond include oak, field maple, beech, wych elm, lime, hornbeam and downy birch.
Educational access for schools enable children to engage with farming and the environment and learn about food production.
Visits to farms allows children to understand how farms operate, they learn the links between farming, conservation and food production using the land as a classroom. Poplar topics include the life cycles of plants and animals, the farm through the seasons and our relationship with the food we eat. Farmers are also custodians of the countryside; they play a key role in the management of our country’s land and natural resources. Children can study countryside management, sustainable farming and development, diversification and the politics and economics of agriculture. Farmer Fi has gained a CEVAS accreditation and we have already welcomed school groups to the farm.
Creation of willow scrub will enhance the woodland edge, protect soils and watercourses and provide habitats for species such as Willow Tit.
Well-managed scrub and its margins support a range of wildlife. Scrub provides nectar, seeds, fruits, shelter and nest sites for invertebrates, birds and mammals. It also offers suitable habitat for many flowering plants. Tall herbs and grasses growing along the edge of scrub offer shelter for small mammals, nest sites for birds and hunting areas for barn owls and kestrels. Birds nest in a range of scrub types. Yellowhammers, linnets, grasshopper warblers and whitethroats favour young, scattered scrub. Dunnocks and willow warblers use low-growing, closed canopy scrub. Turtle doves, song thrushes and bullfinches use older, mature stands of scrub. The aim is to achieve between 10% and 50% cover of scrub willow / hawthorn, alder within four years. There will be grasses and wild flowers including buttercups, daisy, dandelion, broad leaved weeds and tussocky grasses between 5 cm and 15 cm tall on 20% to 60% of the area. From 1st May until 30th July, these plants should be flowering and setting seed. Fallen deadwood will be left in place to recycle nutrients back into the soil, host fungi and provide food for insects and birds.
Legume and herb-rich swards will provide habitats and food for invertebrates including crop pollinators, improve soil structure, mitigate climate change by reducing nitrogen fertiliser and provide productive high-quality forage for livestock.
The diverse sward established in spring 2023 contains 5 species of grass, 3 species of legume and 5 species of Herbs/Wildflowers. It looked fabulous when in full flower and was covered in insects and butterflies. It is also fantastic for grazing and has medicinal benefits for livestock. The fields are not cut or grazed for at least 5 weeks between May and July so that the red clover is fully open for pollinators and no fertilisers are used.
Management of hedgerows increases blossom availability for invertebrates, provides a vital source of food for over-wintering birds by allowing fruit and berries to ripen, and improves the structure and longevity of hedgerows.
Most of our hedges are no longer cut, this allows blossom and fruit to cover the hedgerows each year. Deadwood is left for insects and lower limbs are not removed.
Winter Bird Seed Feed Area
Using money from Highland cow sponsorships we are going to plant a winter bird food area that will provide food through the autumn and winter. This will be sown in March 2024 and will contain grain and seeds such as; dwarf sunflower, fodder radish, gold of pleasure, linseed, mustard, quinoa, red millet, spring barley, spring oats, spring triticale, spring wheat and white millet.
The area is adjacent to the footpath, so we will add a bench and bird hide screen so that everyone can enjoy seeing the birds feeding. We will also add some plants such as buddleia to attract butterflies for visitors to enjoy in the summer months.