Derbyshire Wildlife Trust is committed to a landscape rich in wildlife and valued by everyone. We do this through a wide range of activities including education and community engagement, partnerships and the management of our own nature reserves.
Woodside Farm is an 85 hectare reserve near to Ilkeston in the south of the county. Its aim is to demonstrate that good conservation and agricultural production can work in harmony and also acts as a base for our grazing operation, a vital element of the management of many of our reserves.
The farm was initially stocked with Jacob sheep, however, it proved difficult to finish these to a reasonable carcass weight on our system and so we sought an alternative breed. The criteria was quite specific - hardy with good mothering characteristics, good confirmation and kill out weight and, critically, a breed with a story to it. As a public facing organisation we lead many guided walks and school visits. We also run a meat box scheme were our supporters are able to buy beef and lamb that has been reared on our reserves, therefore a breed with a local connection or a rarity was essential.
Gritstones seemed to fit the bill perfectly and in 2013 we brought a ram to cross with the Jacob ewes. These black lambs grew quickly and last year we brought 6 Gritstone ewes to start building our flock.
We now have roughly a 50/50 split of Gritstone and Jacob ewes, all covered by the Gritstone ram. The best of the pure ewe lambs are retained for breeding, the rest sold through our meat box scheme.
So, what is conservation grazing and how does the breed suit our needs?
Many of our best habitats in Derbyshire, such as the limestone grasslands of the White Peak have been carefully crafted over generations of low intensity and no input grazing. As more and more land is used intensely these habitats and their associated species become rarer and therefore vital to conserve. Conservation is a tricky business, and seldom is ‘doing nothing’ or ‘leaving it to nature’ the best way to conserve these habitats. Therefore we turn to traditional methods and breeds of livestock to help us. By grazing at the correct intensity and at the right time of year we control the encroachment of scrub, remove rank vegetation and achieve the correct sward height. Animals gently browsing also have less impact on the invertebrate and small mammal population than the mechanical mower would.
Gritstones do very well in our system, they adapt to different sward types and heights, are easy to handle, pen and transport, and finish well on an all grass diet. Most of our lambs are run on over the winter and sold the next spring/summer and we have many repeat customers who remark as the to taste and quality of the meat we produce. They have become the mainstay of our operation and the fact they are great looking sheep is a happy bonus!
To learn more about the Derbyshire Wildlife Trust please contact:
Conservation Farming Officer
Derbyshire Wildlife Trust