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Our work at Rhosili

Shetland Cattle on the Warren at Rhosili overlooking Worm's Head
Shetland Cattle on the Warren at Rhosili overlooking Worm's Head | © Chris Smith

Rhosili has thrived in recent years thanks to our wildlife-friendly farming practices. By planting traditional arable crops and wildflower meadows, we have helped improve biodiversity and provide food sources for bees, butterflies and flocks of overwintering birds. 

A pollinators paradise

Pollinators are in serious decline across the country, but Rhosili is bucking the national trend. Just two years ago the bee population here was as low as 2,000, but today the estimated number of bees in the sunflower fields alone numbers a quarter of a million.

Changing the way that we farm and putting nature at the heart of what we do has dramatically improved this area’s biodiversity. 

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 meadows were full of different plants and flowers to provide a natural winter diet, and they were fantastic wildlife habitats. 

But modern farming now favours silage fields, which often have as few as two species of plant and no flowers whatsoever.

Flower power

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, and the tall grasses provide cover for small mammals such as voles and shrews.

Painted lady butterfly on a wild knapweed flower
Planting wildflower meadows helps pollinators such as bees and butterflies | © National Trust Images/Harry Davies

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

Farming reforms

Traditional ‘strip field’ farming has been reintroduced across 45 hectares of farmland on the Vile at Rhosili. This old method of agriculture involves crop fields being divided into long, narrow strips, allowing for more crop rotation which in turn aids soil fertility. The aim is to farm these fields in a productive way, delivering an income while also providing benefits for wildlife.

Conservation Grazing

Shetland cattle, a breed renowned for its hardiness and adaptability, roam the picturesque Warren at Rhosili with an air of rugged elegance. These compact cattle, native to the Shetland Isles, thrive amidst the diverse terrain of the Warren, blending seamlessly with the coastal heathland and grazing on the lush pastures that stretch towards the sea cliffs. With their distinctive shaggy coats providing insulation against the brisk winds, withstanding temperatures as low as -18C, they graze contentedly, embodying the essence of sustainable farming in harmony with nature.

Their presence not only adds to the scenic beauty of the landscape but also plays a crucial role in maintaining the delicate balance of the ecosystem, contributing to the conservation efforts in this idyllic coastal haven. As they graze peacefully against the backdrop of the sweeping vistas of Rhosili Bay, Shetland cattle stand as a testament to resilience and tradition in this breathtaking corner of Wales.

Planting wildlife friendly arable crops

The crop fields have wide margins which don’t have seed sown in them, leaving space for scarce but beautifully delicate arable wildflowers to grow. All crops are also undersown with red clover, which is not only good for the bees and butterflies but also protects the soils after the harvest. 

However, 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, we acquired a combine harvester from the 1970s that is perfect for the job.

Managing our hedgerows

Putting back the lost boundaries also brings added benefits for wildlife. The hedgerows between fields 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.

Orange hand saw resting on a fencepost beside a thick hedgerow
Restoring hedgerows has multiple benefits for wildlife and agriculture | © National Trust Images/Steve Sayers

They also have the ability to change the climate in our fields. Once boundaries (and particularly hedges) are removed 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.

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

We carry out baseline surveys on all our fields to record the condition they’re in, assessing wildlife numbers and soil quality (among other things) to better understand the way the land needs looking after. By repeating these surveys every year or two the data helps inform ongoing land management decisions.

Thank you

With your ongoing support, we're able to continue our vital conservation work. Thank you for helping to protect these special places.

Visitors walking among sunflowers with the sea behind at Rhosili and South Gower Coast


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