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Case study: Lower Winskill Farm, Yorkshire

Lower Winskill Farm © Tom Lord

© Tom Lord/Lower Winskill Farm

Lower Winskill is a family-owned, working farm in picturesque Ribblesdale, with species-rich upland hay meadows and limestone pastures characteristic of the Dales. Tom Lord, the farmer, participates in the Higher Level Stewardship scheme (HLS).

Lower Winskill's meadows are home to many woodland flowers such as bluebell, wood anemone, wood cranesbill and primrose that flower in May just after the ewes and lambs are taken from the fields.

Typical meadow flowers then take over including yellow rattle, red clover, pignut, meadow buttercup, eyebright, rough hawkbit, meadowsweet and the spectacular common spotted orchid. The hay cut is taken late-July to mid-August to allow plants to flower and the uncut edges of meadows are left ungrazed to enable lateflowering species to set seed and provide a valuable food resource for farmland butterflies.

“Without the environmental payments the farm would not be financially viable. We would have to drastically intensify the management with the inevitable loss of many of the wild flowers and invertebrates, especially pollinators and butterflies. Many of the farming systems in the uplands have changed forever. We can’t go back to traditional farming methods in their entirety but we can understand them better and use that understanding to encourage modern farming techniques that will sustain wild farmland flora.”

Tom Lord, Farmer, Lower Winskill

The limestone pasture has a different character; the soils are thinner with limestone pavement and scars breaking the surface. Grazing is controlled to allow plants to flower throughout the spring and summer starting with cowslips and early purple orchid. Lady’s mantle, globe-flower, spring cinquefoil, grass-of-Parnassus and fragrant orchid grow alongside more common limestone flowers like harebell and common rock-rose.

Although Tom was keen to enter the HLS, Lower Winskill Farm was initially overlooked. The great number of moorland SSSIs (Sites of Scientific Interest) in the area took priority over the equally valuable upland hay meadows and pasture at Lower Winskill.

The future scheme needs to support all wildlife-rich farms.