The Farm

Fowlescombe is a traditional mixed organic farm in South Devon (South Hams) having certification with the Soil Association - the main emphasis is on livestock and wildlife. We do all our own hay and silage making, run a large herd of Pedigree Aberdeen Angus, and flocks of rare breed sheep - Manx Loaghtan and Hebridean. We run an arable rotation starting with grass / clover lays and then growing both spring and autumn varieties of corn (barley, oats and triticale) which we use for straw and crimped grain. Some years we grow some forage brassicas for the sheep.

The farm has over 30 miles of hedge rows and Devon banks, a number of ponds and woods, and is managed with wild life in mind. We have a good range of well-equipped farm buildings, including modern livestock and general purpose buildings and restored and converted stone barns for the farm and visitors. We can now supply organic lamb, hogget, mutton, beef, eggs - with organic wool, cloth, clothes, and other goods to follow soon.

The previous farmer used to have a small dairy herd, a beef suckler herd of South Devons, and sheep for wool and meat. Much of the land was protected from the effects of modern intensive farming by its physical limitations. Where it was too steep or too damp to take a tractor the fields were neither sprayed nor fertilised. Unfortunately the manpower was no longer available to take traditional hay crops from some of these areas. As a consequence some fields suffered from overgrazing and yet others from undergrazing. The undergrazed fields have developed good scrub patches - good for birds, butterflies and small mammals, though not for grassland flora. Stock numbers were gradually raised to try to get a return from the land, resulting in severe poaching and damage to the sward and soil structure in some places, especially in very wet seasons. Arable crops then included autumn and spring sown cereals, oil seed rape and linseed, and forage crops such as stubble turnips and kale. The linseed of 1999 could not be harvested and was left as a winter stubble, resulting in huge flocks of finches, especially goldfinches, that autumn.

The species-rich grassland was left fallow for most of 2000 to reduce the worm burden before introducing animals on a more extensive and eventually organic regime. Where possible, grass is now cut for hay and haylage rather than silage to allow the herbs to set seed. The soil is naturally slightly acidic and deficient in a number of minerals including iodine, selenium, zinc and copper, so occasional treatment with ground limestone and trace elements is needed.

The farm is organic with the Soil association, assured via FABBL. The whole farm is in an Environmental Stewardship scheme, with a Higher level part replacing and enlarging upon our previous Countryside Stewardship scheme. We completed 10 year's of Countryside Stewardship in 2009. This involved old pasture management, pond and hedge restoration, orchard planting and some parkland tree planting. Many hedgerows have been restored and laid already, but there are many more still to do. Roadside and trackside hedges are trimmed on the sides annually but topped only every 2 or 3 years.

An organic crop rotation has been established where fields are put in a grass-clover ley to build fertility without using fertilisers before a period of cropping, mainly for spring cereals. Composted farmyard manure is also applied to rotational fields. We use a composting barn and store the manure for 9 months before use - it was constructed by TMS Construction Engineers Ltd. Red clover/Italian rye-grass leys were particularly productive in hot dry summers.

The owners now work full-time on the farm and staff includes a livestock manager and a field manager. Large amounts of planning and effort were needed by conservation staff in the early stages to reopen farm tracks, hardcore access points and laneways and put in new fences and gates before active conservation work could start, although informal species recording has been conducted since April 1998. Young trainees with the British Trust for Conservation Volunteers (BTCV) helped with tree planting and the Devon Rural Skills Trust (DRST) have used the site for hedging and banking training. The farm now welcomes school children and other groups for educational visits about farming and countryside management.