Teneriffe Farm - a marriage of minds

Dexter cattle grazing at Predannack

Bountiful, fertile farm seeks nature-loving and passionate tenant for wild future together. Interest in birds and bees a must. Strictly no time-savers. Please apply in wellington boots to the National Trust.

These are just some of the qualities essential for a tenant farmer on the Lizard. The patchwork of ancient coastal pastures needs careful stewardship if we all want to enjoy its celebrated natural riches for centuries to come.

When we acquired Teneriffe Farm at Predannack in 2011, the land had been commercially farmed in an intensive way for many years, which had taken its toll on the wildlife. The turning point came when Will Watson, who grew up on a farm at Mullion and had been ‘marching these cliffs for years’, came on board.

Farming the Will Watson way

“The best way to understand my farming methods is to turn the clock back 250 years. I use traditional cattle breeds, Dexters and Devons, which thrive on the clifftop pastures where there is an immense diversity of forage.

“I don’t give them minerals or wormers because I don’t have to. The roughage does all that for them. The Dexters are the most incredible converters of forage into fat. I couldn’t give them silage or grain even if I wanted to; they’d get too fat. They’re incredibly nimble-footed so they’re well suited to the ledges and slopes. I couldn’t use European breeds, those that belong to intensive farming methods, like Friesians for example.

Dexter cattle aid in conservation grazing
Conservation grazing at Pencarrow Head, near Polruan, Cornwall.

“The Devons don’t have quite enough sense for the cliff edges so I farm them slightly inland. I know my cattle. I watch every calf being born. I’m a part of them.”    

To fork life back into the overworked land that he’d taken over, Will took a two-pronged approach. In some places he left well alone, allowing the soil to repair itself. In others, he added clover and vetch, putting nitrogen back and providing an important habitat for insects.   

“I did it for the birds. The arable fields are alive with skylarks in June, it’s such a joy to see.” 

A National Nature Reserve

Some of Teneriffe’s acreage now falls within the Lizard’s newly extended National Nature Reserve which is more good news for its wildlife, although Will has been managing it to the status standard for years.

Several carefully managed public footpaths run through the farm allowing walkers to enjoy the happy results of his tenancy, including perhaps a visit to the farm shop.   

“No farmer’s life is stress free but I am committed to ensuring that my cattle’s lives are. We have our own butchery here. I want the people who buy our beef to know that the animals had a good life and that we respected them.”