When we moved here from the city in 2013, our knowledge of the environment was limited to what we read, and what we watched on TV.
Acquiring 45 acres in a National Park was therefore the start of a learning process, which is still going on. And to which we hope you’ll be able to contribute.
But where to start?
When we bought Gwernybustach Farm, it had been neglected for quite a few years. Mostly, there was bracken. Bracken and trees. And more trees. And some sheep. Not ours – they just wandered in, because there were not many fences.
It would be great at this point to say that we created a grand 20 year plan of what to do with the farm.
But we didn’t.
We spoke to Clive, our local National Park Warden, and he said to look into controlling the bracken, and one thing led to another, and gradually, we’re starting to improve the ground (it’s ‘ground’, not ‘land’ – an early lesson).
So, missing out the futile efforts and the blind alleys, here’s what we’ve done so far:
- With help from the Woodland Trust, in 2014 we planted a few 100 meters of new hedgerows. This had the added benefit of creating secure fences. The hedgerows are growing really well, and are starting to look like something. This was supposed to be 400-500 trees, but somehow we got more than 2000, which got put in various places.
- The Welsh government farm environmental scheme is called Glastir, and it has quite a few bits which we’ve used:
- The top 3 meadows are ‘zero input grassland’ as they haven’t been ploughed for decades, and are rich in insect and bird life, which they are keen to preserve and enhance. So we can control the bracken on that area, and we can graze some sheep for a month or two each year, but that’s it: no sprays, not even additional feed for the sheep.
- Bracken control. From May to October, this is a pain. Nothing eats bracken: not cows, not sheep, nothing. So it just grows and grows. And it’s not even a very rich habitat, as it quickly takes over everything. So we get paid to spray some of it with a highly specific (and highly expensive) herbicide called ‘Asulox’. This is pretty harmless to most things apart from bracken (otherwise we wouldn’t be allowed to spray it anywhere near a SSSI) but it’s hard to apply. This happens in August/September, depending on the weather, and how the bracken is growing. Where we can get the tractor onto it, then we mow it a couple of times a year instead, which seems much kinder than spraying, but it’s nowhere near as effective.
- We also planted an Orchard. These have to be full-sized trees, not the little ones used for commercial crops, so in 20 years they should be huge. These are mainly to produce food for other creatures (including the bees) but as there are 40 trees, and mostly cider apples, we might just be making cider quite soon. Watch this space. hic!
- In winter 2017/18 we also planted 8000 more trees, mostly in places where there is bracken. The idea is to keep treating the bracken until the trees are large enough the crowd it out, then we can sit back and watch them grow. This was a mixture of Sessile oak, Beech, Rowan, Silver birch, Hazel, Grey willow, Goat willow, Field maple, Bird cherry, Wild cherry and some native shrubs. Chosen because this is what grows here already.
Note no Ash, due to Ash die-back :-(, but we have lots of it already.
- Some of the existing woodland has also been fenced to make it ‘stock excluded woodland’, which just means it gets to look after itself. Mostly this is below the lane, down to the river, and is Alder with some Ash. And a single ancient Oak, which you’ll do well to spot, as it’s getting strangled by a holly.
- We also inherited some muddy puddles, which we’ve excavated to make them back into ponds, and which now attract some interesting additional wildlife. The local Heron particularly enjoys it.
- Then there are the bees. We inherited these with the farm – they were running wild in the outbuildings, making many of them unusable, but Jackie has gradually got them under some kind of control.
- Which leaves just the Christmas tree forest. About 1 acre of trees, planted about 25 years ago, and which are now about 40-50 ft tall. So we’re gradually thinning these and using the timber around the farm, and yes, we do use one each year as a Christmas tree. But just the top 10 feet. We’re also processing some of these trees into ‘Jenga Blocks’ which are useful for creating walls and steps.