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Regenerative Farming

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The conservation and rehabilitation approach to food and farming

Regenerative agriculture focuses on topsoil regeneration, increasing biodiversity, improving the water cycle, enhancing ecosystem services, supporting biosequestration, increasing resilience to climate change, and strengthening the health and vitality of farm soil.

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What's Special About Farming at West Town Farm?

Looking around at today's consumption-driven society, it's easy to think that 'organic' is just a meaningless buzzword used by supermarket chains and artisan farm shops to double the price of your shopping. And whilst 'organic' has been the topic of considerable press debate over the years, here at West Town Farm, organic farming actually means something.  Aside from the hidden costs to animal welfare, our health, and the environment, the cheap oil and natural resource supplies that chemical farming are so dependant on, will soon simply run out, meaning so too will the option of cheap food.

Over 30 years ago, in 1990, we stopped putting chemicals  and artificial fertiliser into our land's soil and started looking at the bigger picture. The damage caused to the environment and biodiversity by chemical farming has already had devastating effects, and whilst it has allowed the temporary production of the cheap food we see in supermarkets today, these practises are simply unsustainable. Healthy soils are critical for life. They produce 95 per cent of our food and are the source of many of our antibiotics. They store more carbon than the world's forests, mitigate climate change, recycle nutrients and waste, and clean our water. Yet, they are vulnerable to pollution, unsustainable exploitation and erosion.

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“Is it reasonable to suppose that we can apply a broad-spectrum insecticide to kill the burrowing, larval stages of a crop-destroying insect … without also killing the ‘good’ insects whose function may be the essential one of breaking down organic matter and maintaining healthy soil?”

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Rachel Carson, The Silent Spring 1962

Mob Grazing

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Mob grazing mimicks nature’s way of creating and maintaining species rich grasslands, one of the most important habitats for biodiversity on the planet and much under threat. Think the great plains of 1800’s USA or the savannah regions of Africa today. 

The process involves a group of cattle (a mob) being moved regularly to fresh pasture, reproducing the habits of wild grazers who are on the move. This system allows the land to recover quickly which helps build humus levels in the soil because the cattle are not on it for long. The soil at West Town is becoming more resilient to extreme weather, the fields stay greener for longer in dry times and when it rains during dry periods the pastures and soils hold onto that moisture.

Pasture doesn’t just mean grass, there are other plants in the sward: legumes including Clover, Sainfoin, Trefoil, deep rooted perennials including Docks, Charlock and Thistles which bring minerals up from deep in the ground and herbs such as Plantains, Chicory, Yarrow and Burnet. Cows are natural browsers, they also like to eat foliage from our thick hedgerows.

What they don't eat, they flatten. This is then returned to the soil by the action of worms and insects, contributing to the soil's health. Healthy soil supports a multitude of microorganisms and mycelial networks which in turn produce stronger, more nutritious plants and ultimately, contented healthy animals. 

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Grazing cattle this way on pasture is helping to restore ecosystems. Wildlife numbers increase year on year at the farm, birds and butterflies thrive. Because the cows have a light footprint there is time for ground-nesting birds and small mammals to breed and, most importantly, it allows for nutrients to be cycled through the soil.

Healthy soil absorbs an incredible amount of carbon, vital for combating CO2 levels. Regenerative agriculture, such as the kind we practice here is being recognised by many as a crucial part of the way we need to go forward if we are to tackle climate change. 

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A Mosaic of Habitats

Alongside our species rich meadows we have traditional hedges which provide much needed cover as well as providing a food source for birds and small mammals. The farm also has 12 acres of established woodland and new areas of tree planting. We have streams and damp areas, sunny banks and glades. The old railway line cutting which forms part of the farm trail is a jungly mass of ferns and other shade loving plants. 

The Mosaic Approach is about integrating the requirements of species into habitat management, ensuring that plants and wildlife have the places they need to live and reproduce. 

Most species require a range of elements within a wider landscape in order to complete their life cycle. Many of these elements, such as small patches of bare ground, tall flower-rich vegetation, or scattered trees and scrub, are often absent from the English landscape, This has contributed to serious declines in many species. Here at West Town Farm we are doing our utmost to reverse this decline. Providing a mosaic of these elements in the landscape goes a long way towards enabling different species to thrive once again.

We are helped in this endeavour by Natural England who support us through The Higher Level Stewardship Scheme which recognises and rewards farmers for the work they achieve with habitat creation alongside producing premium quality high-welfare local food.

Over 30 years ago, in 1990, we stopped putting chemicals  and artificial fertiliser into our land's soil and started looking at the bigger picture. The damage caused to the environment and biodiversity by chemical farming has already had devastating effects, and whilst it has allowed the temporary production of the cheap food we see in supermarkets today, these practises are simply unsustainable. Healthy soils are critical for life. They produce 95 per cent of our food and are the source of many of our antibiotics. They store more carbon than the world's forests, mitigate climate change, recycle nutrients and waste, and clean our water. Yet, they are vulnerable to pollution, unsustainable exploitation and erosion.

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A Shaggy Dock Story by Andy

When I came out of Agricultural College in 1978, farming was all about taking over nature, taking back control. This would mean killing ‘weeds’ with herbicides and applying large amounts of industrial nitrogen to the fields. I remember going on a farm walk on a dairy farm near Totnes, Devon with a group of farmers. It was an organic farm so no herbicides and fertilisers were used.The group was walking through a field and there were quite a few docks in the pasture.

There are a lot of docks in this field, it looks a bit of a mess; are you not worried that they are taking over and decreasing the production of your grass?' asked one of us.

The organic farmer replies: 'Not at all, in fact I love docks. I think docks provide diversity to the diet of my cows. Early in the spring the shoots are young and the cows love to eat them. The leaves are especially nutritious. Docks are also very deep rooting and they can stay green in dry times when other grasses have stopped growing. Their roots bring up a diverse range of minerals and vitamins from the deeper regions of the soil'

It made sense to me. Now I don't use any chemical fertilisers or herbicides and I know an awful lot more about docks: the seed heads are an important source of food for wildlife in winter, such as birds, rodents and deer. Curled Dock, for example, contains more vitamin C than oranges and more vitamin A than carrots. It also contains vitamins B1 and B2, and iron!

This was the beginning of my organic journey.

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