Some wrongly label extensive livestock farming systems as ‘inefficient’. A case study of the livestock farming system on one of our upland reserves highlights that these systems can provide a lot more than first meets the eye.
Following a successful day at last year's ‘National Beef Association event’ (read more here), we are attending this years event at the Three counties showground, Malvern on Thursday 24 May.
Last year we had a lot of interest in the cattle farming operation at our Ouse Washes nature reserve, and the ‘riverside beef’ label helping to market beef from wildlife rich grasslands in the east of England. This year, we are telling the story of the cattle enterprise on another of our reserves, this time in the uplands.
Tarnhouse Farm is a large hill farm in the North Pennines that makes up part of the RSPB Geltsdale nature reserve. The farm is managed by tenant farmer John Errington, and is made up of 92 suckler cows and 500 breeding ewes.
Cattle numbers have been increased at the expense of some sheep over recent years, and this has been instrumental in the recovery of iconic upland birds on the farm, notably black grouse and wading birds such as curlew, redshank, lapwing and snipe. Black grouse have increased from no birds in 2003 to 25 in 2010 - at a time when black grouse populations in the North Pennines generally have nearly halved.
But the benefits don’t just stop at wildlife. The newly published case study of Tarnhouse farm highlights how this extensive livestock system also makes a major contribution to the conservation of carbon-rich soils and water quality improvements alongside food production and wildlife conservation.
The RSPB campaigns for more support for extensive grazing systems, with agri-environment schemes central to the viability of the farming business at Tarnhouse. A cause of concern for the important wildlife and wider benefits associated with extensive upland farming systems is the declining numbers of cattle in upland regions, and the unfair labelling of extensive systems as ‘inefficient’ if the farm is looked at solely from the perspective of food production.
Cattle play an important role in managing many important habitats across the wider countryside as well as our reserves. If you’re at the event call in, but if not, we’d love to hear how cattle are making a difference for wildlife on your farm or local area.