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Posted: Monday 2nd November 2015 by WoodsideJon

Soay and Gritstone sheep at Woodside Farm, DerbyshireSoay and Gritstone sheep at Woodside Farm, Derbyshire

It only seems 5 minutes since I wrote my first blog about joining Derbyshire Wildlife Trust as their Conservation Farming Officer, but that was over a year ago!

It is very important occasionally to stop a reflect on how things are going - what successes we have enjoyed, what lessons we have learnt and what is the next challenge to face.

I am really pleased with the condition of the animals we care for, a great lambing season and the purchase of extra sheep mean we now have over 100 in our combined flock, carrying out conservation grazing on our nature reserves and sites within the Derwentwise ‘Grazing Comes to Town’ project. Our commercial flock will mainly be Derbyshire Gritstones and our conservation flock of Hebrideans have been bolstered by a small flock of Soay sheep - a small primitive breed from the St Kilda islands off Scotland. Like the Hebrideans these sheep prefer to browse woody vegetation rather than graze grass so are ideal for many of our reserves. I will be lambing the ewes next spring and look forward to seeing their tiny lambs.

We have also increased our cattle numbers, and have started to breed our own calves. We are currently grazing five sites with our cattle, including Wormhill slopes, part of the Wye Valley reserves in the Peak District. This important limestone grassland was under threat from scrub encroachment so we have deployed part of the team who are steadily grazing back rank grasses and scrub. As with the sheep, we need to remain open minded about the choice of breed we use and with this in mind I brought two Beef Shorthorn steers in the summer. These are another hardy native breed but are a little larger than the Highlands, meaning they are commercially more viable. We will see how they develop on our sites.

So, what of the future? The Trust is at the start of a five year strategic plan, the purpose of which is to achieve our vision of landscapes rich in wildlife valued by everyone. Our work at Woodside, and increasingly in our Living Landscapes, contributes greatly to this vision and I look forward to developing the project, increasing our meat sales and providing more conservation grazing services over the next five years.  

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