January Speaker’s Report – Yorkshire Wildlife Trust Conservation Farming Talk

This report from Bev Baldry, photos by Linda Pilling.

John Allison, who is originally from Hull and has a background in urban planning and land management, visited the Guild to talk about conservation farming at Appleton Mill Farm in North Yorkshire. The farm has been in his family since 1955 and has faced various challenges and changes in its lifetime in order to preserve and protect itself and the land from commercialisation.

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The farm itself is made up of approximately one third woodland, one third pasture and one third arable land, has very few straight lines, is divided by a river and is surrounded by extremely steep hills. All of these factors present their own issues, for example, the steep hills mean that it is not possible to get machinery up there to farm the land which limits its use. However, on the flip side of this, as the land cannot be fertilised it means that many varieties of wild flowers are able to thrive in these areas, one of which is anemones which positively indicate the presence of ancient woodland.

The river means that moving machinery around the land is difficult, especially after heavy rain as the steep hills channel the rain water into the river, causing the level to rise.

The cattle in the pastures which bordered on the river bank also created a problem in that the bank became eroded and needed to be retained by the use of natural ‘faggots’. ‘Faggots’ are created by compressing small branches into wooden frames and these were then pegged into the river near the bank to prevent the bank being pushed into the river.

The conservation aspect of the farm meant that use of more modern farm machinery was not practical as many areas of the preserved hedges would have to be removed to accommodate the larger machines. Due to this the farm still has many traditional tractors and implements which are preserved to manage the land effectively without being detrimental.

One of the more traditional methods of managing the woodland was coppicing, however, this method was already deemed economically inviable in the late 1890’s and was no longer practised by 1919. This resulted in large areas of woodland becoming overgrown and over crowded which meant that much of the woodland floor died off due to lack of sunlight. Thanks to volunteers, areas of the woodland were once again coppiced and surprisingly, the woodland floor recovered extremely quickly, producing daffodils and even wild strawberry.

Over the years, a number of initiatives have been tried in order to increase the income of the farm. These included the growing of turkeys by John’s mother, who possibly got somewhat carried away with the use of growth hormones which produced turkeys that were so big that they did not fit in to commercial ovens!!!!! An intensive pig unit was installed, however, this was short lived due to changes in regulations of the building specifications and was later demolished. Charcoal production was another undertaking, however, this was ceased in favour of simply just selling the wood from the land for logs as less labour was involved and demand was higher.

John’s talk gave us an insight into a different approach to farming from the more common commercial farming that is widely practised. Conservation farming places emphasis on the preservation of the wildlife on the land as well as the land structure and layout itself and employs more traditional methods of land management which are often a labour of love as many volunteers are involved in the upkeep of Appleton Mill Farm.

In addition to John’s talk the YNT brought along a display showing various aspects of their work, including using their flock of Pedigree Hebridean sheep, and a number of items made from the fleeces of their No1 scrub control team.

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