Manor Farm is one of Surrey's standout farms. The 3,000 acre site in Wotton is home to a mix of crops and livestock, including its famous herd of Belted Galloway cattle know as the 'Belties'. It has featured on TV and also received a Quality badge by the Council for Learning Outside the Classroom for its many and varied educational programmes. Recently, as part of the Farming in a Protected Landscape scheme, it has embarked on an ambitious hedgerow planting programme drawing in the help of volunteers from across the county.
Q1: What can you tell us about Farming in Protected Landscapes (FiPL) grant? What does it mean for the farm?
The Farming in Protected Landscapes grant (FiPL) is available in Areas of Outstanding Natural Beauty (AONB) and National Parks. The Surrey Hills Trust Fund receives grant applications and may fund projects which help to mitigate the impacts of climate change, support nature-friendly sustainable farm businesses, support nature recovery, provide opportunities for people to discover, enjoy and understand landscape and cultural heritage and help deliver outcomes of the Surrey Hills AONB management plan.
It has enabled us to make a huge positive difference to the farmed landscape in a short space of time, increasing biodiversity around the fields that otherwise would not have been possible. The FiPL grant provided us with the opportunity to purchase 20,000 native hedgerow trees and to create new wildlife corridors along 4.5km of field boundaries, linking up existing habitats on the farm.
Q2: How important is sustainability to the farm and how does it affect Manor Farm’s overall farming methods?
There are multiple strands to farm sustainability which include farming techniques, environmental sustainability and a viable farm business producing Assured, British food; each strand must work together for sustainable British farming to survive in a global market.
We began making big changes about 25 years ago to our arable farming, when we stopped ploughing the land and moved over to a minimum tillage system which reduced soil disturbance and thereby carbon release into the atmosphere. This results in soil biology, structure and organic matter improving year on year, retaining moisture and reducing soil erosion.
We integrate livestock grazing into the crop rotation where possible and utilise recycled organic manures wherever practicable instead of imported fossil-fuel based fertiliser.
Our herd of Belted Galloway cattle graze on the North Downs, undertaking important habitat management of these chalk downland Sites of Special Scientific Interest. Grazing livestock helped to create this species-rich environment over hundreds of years, and they play a vital role in sustaining and safeguarding the unique flora and fauna that exists here today.
The cattle bring a further benefit to the environment as they graze off the grass, with the plant taking carbon down into its roots and the soil as it re-grows; the grass acts as a carbon-sink.
We produce beef from unimproved grasslands which are not suitable for growing crops, including the steep downland with its thin topsoil over chalk
Q3: You are working closely with volunteers – how important is it for you to build links with the community and do you think it adds to a greater understanding of farm life and where food comes from?
Whenever I’m out and about on the farm I tend to chat with visitors about the work we’re doing or the wildlife around us. Our hedgerow project has been a wonderful opportunity to extend that sharing of information about farming life and where food actually comes from. Bringing together so many volunteers from local communities and further afield who’ve come to help, or those passers-by who stop to discover more about the farm and hedgerows.
There’s been an overwhelming sense of new understanding about food and farming; everything from crop rotations and farm technology to British farm Assurance and the consequences of importing food grown to lower standards and with higher environmental impact; it’s been an interesting few months!
Q4: With spring upon us, what are your favourite things you look forward to on the farm?
Skylarks are one of my favourite birds on the farm, they begin singing and soaring in the skies above the fields on chilly days, even before the emerging Lesser celandine and wood anemone blanket the woodland floor
Q5: As life begins to go back to normal following Covid-19, what are your plans for the Farm Shop?
We continue to provide seasonal ‘Pasture For Life’ Beltie beef direct from Manor Farm, with orders taken in advance and the beef collected on the day of butchery. Being raised on pasture, slow grown and dry-aged, the beef is sold as and when ready, there is no rushing! It’s important to our customers to know exactly where and how their beef is raised, they visit the farm, meet the farmer and and see the herd grazing locally.
And maybe tell us why your beef should have a place on the Great Surrey Menu!
Manor Farm Beltie Beef is certified 100% ‘Pasture For Life’ and raised on herb-rich, natural grasslands and free from grain and soya whilst providing wonderful added value to the environment, maintaining unique flora and fauna and sequestering carbon.
To find out more about Manor Farm at Wotton, Surrey, click here