[A] Lake District herd of Albion cattle have had a busy transfer window helping to safeguard the breed. Over the winter 23 went to homes across the country and a new bull and 13 expected arrivals are welcome additions to the herd.
High Lickbarrow Farm, a grade two listed building near Windermere, was gifted to the National Trust in October 2015 following the death of local donor Michael Bottomley. The Trust is tasked with looking after the remarkable plants and animals found on the farm and its unusual herd of Albions.
Directly managed by Trust staff it is their only ‘in-hand’ farm in the North of England.
Surrounded by housing, the land is full of wildflower-rich pastures, abundant bird song and becks with native white-clawed crayfish. The farm is also home to a rare herd of 18 Albion breeding cattle and one bull, making it the largest in the country and central to the breed’s survival.
Farm manager and countryside ranger John Pring explains what’s been keeping him and his rangers busy: “In the last year we have been getting to know the land and producing a plan to look after it. We had a busy winter reducing the herd to numbers which the farm grassland can support whilst being good for nature. The busy transfer window saw 10 cows, 12 calves and one bull sent to conservation graziers and breed enthusiasts to set up new herds and expand existing ones in West Yorkshire, Derbyshire, Cornwall and Cheshire.
“We are pleased to welcome a new 22-month-old bull, Ironstone Blue John from a farm in Leicestershire. One of very few that are available in the country, he will be siring the next generation of the herd and we look forward to seeing the results.
“With winter over, the cows are back on the land grazing at High Lickbarrow and Moorhow, helping to conserve the incredible wildlife. Calving has started and we have welcomed five blue heifers and six bulls, with two on more on their way.
“Other welcome additions include a barn owl which has nested at one end of the barn, and a kestrel at the other. Thankfully they seem at peace with each other. An otter has been spotted in the beck, great news unless you happen to be one of the many native crayfish living there! Finally the birdsong is amazing and testament to the habitat found here” added John Pring.
The National Trust says sustainable and profitable farming needs to be underpinned by a healthy environment, and this depends on a farming system that is sensitive to its needs. The Trust believes farmers will continue to have a critical role in producing safe and sustainable supplies of food. But, they will also be critical to improving biodiversity, protecting vulnerable natural resources, caring for landscapes and heritage, looking after the welfare of livestock, and helping to address growing challenges like climate change and flooding.
At High Lickbarrow there is an opportunity for the Trust to gain, first-hand, such an insight into farming with nature.