At Fir Farm we seek to integrate food production and nature conservation through management practices that regenerate the environment, observing natures’ principles of diversity and balance.
Our farm has a diverse landscape, incorporating permanent pasture and meadows, woodland, orchards, arable land, ponds and a river. We therefore have an abundance of biodiversity that we work to protect and enhance.
We also believe it is important to live with as little environmental impact as possible which is why we are always seeking to improve our energy use and water management.
There is an abundance of wildlife on the farm, including breeding otters, water voles, barn owls, little owls, kingfishers, herons and egrets. In recent years we have seen an increase in the numbers of hedgehogs, in contrast with the national trend.
In 2018 we undertook a grassland survey, along with an invertebrate survey and bird count, to set a baseline for the farm’s biodiversity. We shall undertake another survey in 2023 to record how our management of the farm has affected the biodiversity. Fir Farm has nationally-significant levels of classified lowland meadows, including grassland that is unlikely to have been ploughed, or intensively managed, for several centuries.
Of the 106ha of grassland at Fir Farm in 2018, 6% is priority habitat grassland with flora characteristic of seasonally-flooded river valleys in lowland southern England (MG4 and MG5b). Almost 60% is actively being restored to species-rich Lowland Meadow. The remaining third is species-poor, but its biodiversity is being improved constantly through mob grazing and other organic, sustainable farming practices.
As well as numerous relatively uncommon arable plant species, the flora of Fir Farm includes the rare broad-fruited cornsalad Valerianella rimosa, which grows in fewer than 20 known places in Britain, and the shepherd’s needle Scandix pecten-veneris, which is also officially classified as threatened.
Click here to read our 2018 Ecological Survey
Click here to read our 2018 Baseline Invertebrate Survey
Birdlife on the farm
Bees for pollination and honey
Essential to the lifecycle of Fir Farm’s orchard and wildflower meadows, public awareness of the vital overall ecological role of bees has been growing fast in recent years, not least because of the threats to them.
According to the EU, pollinators, including honey bees, bumblebees and wild bees, contribute at least 22 billion euros each year to the European agriculture industry. They ensure pollination for over 80% of crops and wild plants in Europe. Honey bees also provide honey and other products such as pollen, wax for food processing, propolis in food technology, and royal jelly used as a dietary supplement and as an ingredient in food.
We currently have 12 hives on the farm and we are now working with Matt Somerville from Bee Kind Hives to adopt a more natural method of beekeeping.
Under the guidance of Vaughan Lewis from the Wild Trout Trust we have carried out significant work to our section of the river to improve conditions for wild Brown Trout and other river species. We have installed three trout bypasses which allow the fish to migrate and spawn. Felled and fallen trees are used to create important habitats for trout as well as gravel banks which are good for spawning.
Find out more about the Wild Trout Trust here.
We have planted over 50 acres of native woodland (nearly 45,000 trees) and 4.2 kilometres of hedgerow, two fruit orchards and a nuttery, providing food and habitats for local wildlife and also providing a sustainable source of fuel. We use the sheep to graze between the trees as part of our woodland management strategy which has exposed hunting ground for owls, and we have seen an increase in wildlife throughout the woodland. We also have nest boxes for many native woodland birds such as tree sparrows and robins.
Using timber gathered from sustainable sources we create woodchip biofuel from virgin softwood, which supplies not only Fir Farm but also many local businesses with an eco-friendly source of fuel.
To find out more about out biomass fuel click here.
Much of our water is naturally sourced from boreholes, springs and ponds. We have created four ponds on the farm and aim to increase our percentage of water harvested year on year to ensure that when the cattle are housed they drink only collected rainwater. All the run-off water from the farm yards and buildings is collected and stored in a lagoon. We re-use the water in the summer on the grasslands and arable fields. We keep our water management strategy under review and it is a continually evolving process.