Making more space for nature in Cornwall
At Pentire Farm we are working closely with our tenant farmer and other partners to manage the whole headland in a way that enhances the existing wildlife.
Essentially Pentire is being managed more as a farmland nature reserve rather than a commercial farm. The emphasis is firmly on maximising benefits for wildlife. By creating and restoring habitats and natural processes, we’re accommodating the needs of our rarer species and protected landscapes.
How has that changed farming at Pentire?
Our tenant is still producing food though the breeding and raising of cattle which graze on the herb rich pastures. The number of cattle here at any one time is kept low, so the land is not overgrazed. They’re moved around the headland so that areas of grassland have a chance to grow tall and wild plants can flower, giving a home to wildlife. This includes the pastures on the cliffs where we have some of the best species-rich maritime meadows that need preserving.
Cattle are best for nature conservation as they graze off the more competitive grasses, keep scrub in check and trample invasive species such as bracken to create a mixed habitat for wildlife.
What about crops?
Crops are still grown at Pentire. Generally, it’s spring barley which provides useful supplementary feed for the cattle in winter, but also becomes a shelter for ground nesting birds, insects (including pollinators), small mammals and a huge variety of arable wildflowers. We no longer routinely use pesticides, fertilisers or insecticides on the farm, so the plants have a chance to flourish. Poppies and corn marigolds have started emerging along the field edges and we’re seeing many other species within the crops including weasel’s snout and corn spurrey. Some areas of barley are left unharvested and stubble from cut crops are left over winter, so there is year round seeds for the birds to forage on.
What other changes are benefitting wildlife?
Some fields are returning to wildflower meadows with our help. Spreading locally harvested seed and introducing special plants like yellow rattle (which suppresses the vigour of aggressive grass species) are just two of the techniques we are using. Traditional hay cutting after flowers have set seed is also helping to improve the meadows. Bees and butterflies are benefitting from the big increase in flowers and the meadows are teeming with invertebrates such as grasshoppers, crickets and spiders.
Changes have been made to widen and extend the coastal grassland. By taking areas out of intensive land management in some fields, ‘green’ corridors improve habitat connectivity across the headland. A combination of natural regeneration, sowing wildflower seed and some tree planting in these areas will provide bigger, better, and more joined up homes for all manner of wildlife.
Other areas, left to nature to ‘rewild’, will become a mosaic of tall grass, tussocks and scrub; with much less intrusive management these will be perfect hunting ground for barn owls and an undisturbed sanctuary for ground nesting birds, insects and mammals.
Skylark population increasing
We have already seen that the skylark population and the numbers of overwintering farmland birds has increased at Pentire; a result of having less intensive grazing and wildlife-friendly arable crops, together with leaving and creating more areas of undisturbed long grass through the summer. We will continue to monitor changes in wildlife into the future as we nurture the headland to become species-rich throughout.
With new access routes and visitor facilities at Pentire now complete too, our visitors can enjoy Pentire, its landscapes and flourishing wildlife even more.