Birkdale House

Matson Ground Farm Blog Spring 2024

Birkdale House

30th May 2024

Welcome to a new feature for the Birkdale House website – life on the Matson Ground Farm. Every couple of months we’ll be letting you know what’s happening on the farm. And there’s never a dull moment.

Spring marks the start of the farm’s busiest seasons. There is new life coming into the world everywhere we look and the grass is finally growing.

We are approaching the end of lambing around 650 sheep, which should bring around 1000 lambs. All of the sheep lamb outside, checked twice a day by our shepherdess and are ideally left to get on with things by themselves. Any sheep or lambs that do need a little extra help are brought back to the farm for some TLC but we have a hardy breed of sheep and have had a decent run of weather so we haven’t had too many on the indoor labour ward.

We have 80 head of cattle now on the farm, a combination of Belted Galloway and Blue Grey breeds. They are just coming to the end of grazing their winter ‘allotment’ grounds and will soon be moved to lower, summer pastures. With our policy change, this is the first year in many decades we haven’t calved cows on Matson Ground.

All of this has been ably handled by a team of three young shepherdesses and farm students, it’s great to see such enthusiasm for agriculture from these women.

The pretty wild primroses adorn the damp, dark banks and the bluebells are carpeting the woodland floors. We hear the curlew’s calling as they watch over their nests, and thanks to extra monitoring from the South Lakes Curlew Recovery Partnership, the young chicks will hopefully be fledging soon.

We’ll be back to update you as we move into the summer months and the farming cycle continues for shearing and haymaking.

Habitat Creation Project on School Knott and Grandsire

Under a new DEFRA Stewardship agreement we are beginning work on a habitat creation project on School Knott and Grandsire, a special area of upland grassland, mires and pasture, covering just under 100 hectares.

Habitat creation

The aim is to enhance and develop habitats to support threatened species of butterflies and moths, and to plant a diverse mix of tree and scrub species to create wood pasture. These tree and scrub species have been carefully chosen to be typical of this upland landscape and will provide food and nectar sources for rare and threatened invertebrate species.

Woodland pasture

Careful planting of around 3,500 trees will ensure existing habitat is not adversely affected. Species have been specially selected to suit the soil type and topography and include alder, common juniper, holly, hazel, rowan, small leaved lime, blackthorn, crab apple and wild cherry.

Older trees will be retained and as they decay they will provide habitats for invertebrates. Trees in wood pasture, which are open grown, gain girth faster than trees in closed canopy woodland, and capture about twice as much carbon as the same area of closed canopy woodland, and much more than grazed pasture.

The target invertebrate species are indicators and the habitats created should increase the diversity of species over the whole site.  Plug planting with devil’s bit scabious, marsh violet and primrose will contribute to the extension of habitat. Our native breed cattle will continue to graze throughout to maintain the diversity in the sward and for scrub control.

Nature loves water

There are species rich mires over much of Grandsire, which includes a Site of Special Scientific Interest (SSSI). Within some of these, work has started to block small drains at 10 points across the land, to enable these to remain wetter in dry summer weather in order to retain key species.

School Knott Tarn will be enhanced by riparian planting – planting trees and shrubs along watercourses, being careful not to cause too much shade, and the covered culvert leading down from the tarn will be opened to allow the stream to find its natural course again. A number of scrapes will retain water offering further opportunities for the spread of habitat supporting target species and will also be of benefit to many other species.

Broad Benefits

The design of the wood pasture scheme, and the interventions to enhance wetland areas, have been carried out by local specialists, under the supervision of Natural England.  The scheme will benefit the existing biodiversity, landscape character, water quality, carbon storage and to some extent flood risk management.

This part of the farm is popular with walkers so you may see work taking place over the coming months. We’ll share more updates here as the project develops.