At Fir Farm, we operate a holistic system, producing food in ways that work with nature, observing it’s principles of diversity and balance.
Farming with nature
Our integrated, mixed livestock system includes many practices which use natural processes to the good of the animals, environment and meat quality. Mob grazing of our diverse pasture provides a natural food source, rich in nutrients, for the animals. This also allows them to ‘self-medicate‘, selecting the plants that are good for them, including many natural ‘de-wormers’ and other beneficial varieties. This is one of the reasons we have seen a 30% reduction in our vet bills in recent years. Similarly, allowing pigs and goats to graze selected verges and tracks is helping us to keep the farm tidy with zero use of herbicides and minimal labour.
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.
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 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.