World Wildlife Fund
Extract from a World Wildlife Fund report describing environmental schemes at Lower House Farm, Longtown
Extract from a World Wildlife Fund report describing environmental schemes at Lower House Farm, Longtown.
Money makes the countryside go round: The case for increased spending on countryside schemes in England
A WWF-UK Report
David Lovelace, Rebecca May, Richard Perkins May 2000
All rights reserved. All material appearing in this publication is subject to copyright and may be reproduced with permission. Any reproduction in full or in part of this publication must credit WWF-UK as the copyright holder.
DENNIS WATKINS, LOWER HOUSE FARM LONGTOWN, HEREFORDSHIRE HR2 0NZ
Lower House Farm is a 36-hectare, all-grass farm in the lee of the spectacular Black Mountains of the Welsh borderlands. The farm runs from the edge of common moorland at 600m down to the River Monnow flood plain at 120m. The area is designated a Less Favoured Area and applied for, but failed to obtain, Environmentally Sensitive Area status in the last round of designations.
Environmental issues in the locality
Longtown Group Parish (7,000 hectares) forms a compact landscape of wide valleys, common hill grazing, small field sizes, tall hedges and wooded dingles, supposedly derived from pre- Medieval wood pasture, and is 90 per cent permanent pasture.
The community has recently completed a European-funded review of its environmental and business assets (The Olchon Development Project). Part of the assessment was a survey of the grasslands in Longtown Group Parish that showed over 150 fields to have a high to moderate diversity of native plant indicator species. The indications from local farms, some of whose grassland has been in Countryside Stewardship, are that plant biodiversity can recover to a surprising extent from years of high input grazing.
Countryside Stewardship is the sole delivery mechanism for environmental management, and even though many farmers in the group parish are interested in joining the scheme, agrienvironment payments still represent only four per cent of the total farm subsidy to the group parish. Most scheme expenditure is on boundary features and only a quarter (ie one per cent of total agricultural support) goes towards area payments for grassland conservation. This is not surprising, as the headage subsidy to the area is equivalent to £180 per hectare and until recently area grassland payments were less than £100 per hectare. Last year, many of the farms were just breaking even, and second jobs are becoming necessary, sometimes requiring travel to the neighbouring towns of Abergavenny or Hereford.
Lower House Farm has been run along conventional sheep rearing lines for some years, having about 740 ewes and quota for the same. The farm has rights to pasture on the neighbouring hill common grazing, which is part of the Black Mountains SSSI and joined to a larger area of heather moorland that stretches over the Welsh border into the Brecon Beacons National Park. The stocking rate, of just over six ewes per hectare, is the limit for receiving Hill Livestock Compensatory Allowance. Together with Sheep Annual Premium, this adds up to payments to farmers of £21 per ewe.
While the farm is not over-stocked by modern standards, the remaining woodland and hedgerows have become seriously grazed out, with no regeneration and little botanical diversity. While the higher fields have never been ploughed, the permanent grazing and modest fertiliser input has reduced their visible native species content to low levels. The farm began by entering some of its hedgerows into the Countryside Stewardship Scheme, but wanted to improve the environment of the farm as a whole. The grassland survey of the area has shown that a number of previously ‘improved’ swards could recover some of their former diversity that has remained in the seed bank and rootstock. So, a case was made for entering these higher fields into the Money makes the countryside go round 13 1999/2000 Countryside Stewardship, made more attractive by the new upland Hay Meadow payment of £150 per hectare.
The remaining hedgerows were also entered, and three heavily grazed woodland fragments are to be fenced and expanded in a combined Farm Woodland Premium Scheme and Woodland Improvement Grant scheme application. The farm has also entered its remaining fragment of ancient woodland (which contains a giant 9m wide semi-natural Lime, several thousand years old) into the Livestock Exclusion Annual Premium (LEAP). LEAP pays £80 per hectare to farmers for fencing stock out of woodland that they have normally claimed as forage area. This is the last year of LEAP.
Overall the Countryside Stewardship Scheme requires the farm to reduce its stock by about 250 ewes, so losing about £5,000 a year in headage payments. The extra payments under the combined schemes do not quite make up that short fall, but the farm can offset the losses by selling 250 units of sheep quota. At the same time, discussions are continuing among those holding commoners’ grazing rights to the Black Mountain SSSI to enter the new Countryside Stewardship Scheme moorland option. This option pays £60 per year.
The new money for the Countryside Stewardship Scheme announced in December 1999 has given a confidence boost to those embarking on the scheme in the locality. Unfortunately, payment rates are still not sufficient to compensate for the loss of income from reduced stocking. As a result uptake is expected to remain modest.