Creating a new haven for wildlife on the Vile

Flocks of Linnet feeding on the Vile

We’re changing the way we’re farming on the Vile, managing the land in a productive wildlife friendly way. As part of the restoration project we’re creating new hay meadows, introducing wildlife friendly crops whilst restoring this ancient landscape.

Creating new hay meadows
It was once common for most farms in the UK to have hay meadows to provide winter food for their livestock. These hay meadows were full of different plants and flowers to provide animals with the most natural winter diet, and they were fantastic wildlife habitats. 

Modern farming now favours silage fields as an alternative which often have as few as two or three species of plant, often without a single flowering plant.

By having hay meadows that are once again full of flowers, we can provide the nectar source for pollinators such as bees, butterflies and moths. It’s also a great place to raise a family if you’re a ground nesting bird, because of the longer growing season and the tall grasses provide cover for small mammals such as voles and shrews. 

Making our meadows flower-rich
Making our meadows flower-rich on the Vile, Gower

To give our meadows a boost we’ve re-seeded them with a rich grass and wildflower seed mix, that will provide instant food for the bees and butterflies. This work was funded by the Gower Landscape Partnership, who are supported by the Heritage Lottery Fund. On other areas we’ve also spread green hay from an established meadow to help increase the numbers of different plants we have across the whole of the Vile.  

Planting wildlife friendly arable crops
Traditionally, crops have always been grown on different parcels of land on the Vile. These days, with modern agricultural machinery, it’s a struggle to find machines small enough to fit into these fields to harvest the crops. 

To make sure that we could continue to farm the traditional strip fields that we were restoring, we acquired a combine harvester from the 1970s that would be perfect for the job. Not only does this allow us to farm the narrow strips, it also makes things easier for us if our mix of crops are ready to harvest at different times. 

We aim to farm these fields in a productive way as well as making them better for wildlife; the crops we’ve selected will deliver an income for the farm and benefits for wildlife. The crops we planted in 2017 had wide margins which didn’t have seed sown in them to leave space for the scarce but beautifully delicate arable wildflowers and all crops were undersown with red clover. The clover is not only good for the bees and butterflies but also protects the soils after the harvest. 

Managing our hedgerows
Putting back the lost boundaries also brings added benefits for wildlife. Boundaries and hedgerows act as wildlife corridors, keeping wildlife flowing through our fields. They allow birds to nest in the hedges, insects to nest in the long grass and mammals to travel undetected by birds of prey. They also have the ability to change the climate in our fields; once boundaries (and particularly hedges) are removed from fields there is nothing to slow down the wind as it blows off the sea. Wind can quickly change the character of the landscape, and with nowhere to shelter, weak fliers, such as our butterflies and bees no longer find the landscape to their liking. 

Enhancing habitats for bees and butterflies on the Vile
Enhancing habitats for bees and butterflies on the Vile, Gower

How will we know if we’ve improved conditions for wildlife?

We’ve carried out baseline surveys on all of our fields recorded what condition we’ve found everything in. Our surveys have even taken us underground as we’ve conducted soil surveys to better understand the way the land needs looking after. By repeating these surveys every year or two the data will help inform ongoing land management decisions. 

Is this a one year project?
2017 marks the start of a five year project to restore the Vile, next year we’ll create more banks; plant more crops; create more meadows and introduce beekeeping to the Vile.