The green way to create hay
A NORTH Devon farmer will help seed a revival in sustainable farming when he makes scores of bales of hay this week.
The special cut of green hay comprises herbs, grasses and flowers not usually found in the conventional forage and bedding harvested across the county.
The 18-acre sloping field is at Higher Grinacombe, close to Roadford Reservoir, where pioneering work is taking place to save water – and money.
The farm belongs to Simon Kerslake, who keeps sheep, cattle and horses. Much of his grass is for haylage.
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He explained why he chose to turn the field over to a green hay meadow: "To the untrained eye it's a conventional meadow but contains a lot of wild flowers and yellow rattle which make it a wild-leaf pasture. So from an ecological point of view it's beneficial.
"The yellow rattle takes the nitrates and kills the more agricultural grass, encouraging the growth of other plants, herbs and unusual grasses that benefit the health of the sheep as well as attracting wildlife."
One of the main advantages is a reduction in phosphates into the nearby water course that feeds Roadford.
That reduces the amount of money South West Water has to spend on cleaning up the water supply.
Through the winter Simon's sheep chose to graze the green meadow rather than his other fields because of the extra nutrition and even medicinal qualities in the plants.
Green hay is one of a range of sustainable practices at Higher Grinacombe and on other farms embraced by the Upstream Thinking and Working Wetlands initiatives.
The programme is partly financed by South West Water and Defra and is devoted to restoring Devon's wet grasslands, with the ultimate aim of better managing the county's water resources.
Thousands of acres of wetlands, including the rare culm found in North Devon, were lost to drainage during the latter half of last century.
The Working Wetlands project is led by Devon Wildlife Trust and has attracted nearly £8 million for local landowners to farm sustainably.
Working Wetlands Project Manager Mark Elliott said: "Green haying is a cheap and cheerful way of transferring seed from one site to another.
"It's a much more effective way of getting seed into grassland."
The 30 or so bales of green hay from Higher Grinacombe are going to another farmer a few miles away to help seed another meadow as part of the restoration programme.