Monday, 16 July 2012

Open Farm Sunday

Welcome to Mabley Farm

The Wye Valley Youth Ranger group visited Mabley Farm on the Woolhope dome in Herefordshire to assist with Open Farm Sunday, an annual national event to showcase farms and farming. Mark O’Brien and Liz Vice who farm the land at Woolhope are the current holders of the best farm in the under 100 hectare category of the Wye Valley AONB Farming Awards 2011. The farm operates an extensive organic system supporting a huge range of wildlife whilst enhancing the landscape.

 Covering 75 hectares in total, with two substantial areas of woodland, an area of traditional parkland and several hay meadows, Mabley presents quite a challenge.  Liz and Mark also graze and manage a Herefordshire Nature Trust Reserve, Wessington Pasture, a remnant of traditional Herefordshire grassland.

We started our tour at the village hall and walked across a large field that was restored to meadow by Mark around eight years ago. It now boasts a wealth of flowers including hay rattle and knap weed, and on our visit the sun peeked out and brought the grassland alive with butterflies and bees on our visit in sharp contrast to nearby arable fields.

We continued into Wessington Pastures and meet a volunteer who was checking the nest boxes on the site. She shared with us some footage from her camera that she had minutes ago captured, of 3 strong and healthy kestrel chicks from one of the specialised nest boxes on the site.

The farm has built up a stock of longhorn cattle, as well as Wiltshire Horned sheep. We got close up to the herd and inspected this year’s calves. Mark explained how the animals fell out of fashion, as they take a long time to mature for market. The Wiltshire Horned sheep unlike commercial flocks, do not need shearing as they shed their wool naturally, a cost saving plus to this unusual breed. Mark said of his animals;

‘The pedigree cattle and sheep are sold as quality breeding livestock. The organic Longhorn beef from animals raised exclusively on an extensive grassland system has supplied London restaurants, but we prefer to sell our beef, lamb and mutton locally to selected pubs and restaurants and also through our box scheme to individual customers.’

We continued on to a wet meadow bordering the small country lane. This remnant of marshy meadow offers a sanctuary for the Southern Marsh Orchid in which to flourish. On our visit the orchids were flowering in great profusion, dotting the grassland with spires that ranged from purple to pink.

During their time on the farm, Liz and Mark have felled a conifer forest to restore a more open broad leaved habitat with woodland glades, offering nectar and foraging for bees and butterflies. The SSSI woodland is now coppiced on a rotational basis producing good quality material for hedgelaying and green wood workers.

There was a lot to take in. We stopped for lunch and then the Youth Rangers split into four groups and were each assigned an area to talk about. At 2pm the farm opened to the public and the visitors were escorted around the farm with Mark as the main guide. The Youth Rangers assisting the tour, were stationed at strategic locations along the way, they pointed out interesting t flora, and were able to remember some facts and figures to relate to the visitors. More stops were made to examine livestock and the charcoal making on the site, with our Youth Rangers providing a wealth of interesting information. Then it was time for tea and cake, and the brewing of water with the Kelly Kettles. Thanks to Mark and Liz for a wonderful day, and well done everyone you were brilliant.

To find out more about Mabley Farm, please follow the link to the web site.

Identifying orchids

 Brewing up


The Longhorn Cattle

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