INSPIRATIONAL FARMING AT CHALLONS COMBE – Reporting back from the SHS first Farm Briefing of 2020.
Worries about climate change, and a desire to increase the biodiversity of, not only the world but also our own backyards, has led to the huge popularity of Isabella Tree’s book Wilding. I was first introduced to the principle of ‘Rewilding’ last summer, by a fellow South Hams Society member on a Society visit to the South Milton bird reserve. Isabella, together with her husband Charlie Burrell as owners of the Knepp Estate in West Sussex have, over the last twenty years, returned their farm to nature with spectacular success. As a result, they have become leading lights in the world of conservation and challenged long-held conventional ideas about managing the landscape.
In 1999, just before the start of the rewilding project at Knepp began, local farmers Mary and Peter Fish, decided to start the process of converting their dairy farm at Challons Combe into an organic enterprise. There is no doubt that the last twenty years have been testing times, with the culling of half of their much loved and carefully nurtured, a herd of English Friesians, due to TB, a major blow. Continually working at improving their grass organically has resulted in lush pastures which are rich in wildflowers. The wildlife obviously luxuriates in this fecund environment, with many varieties of dung beetles having returned and several varieties of bats residing comfortably in an environment which is chemical-free.
Yesterday, a group of SHS members visited Challons Combe, one of a series of Farm Briefings organised by the Society. These Briefings are helping members have a better understanding of the needs of farmers; an important part of preserving the South Hams as a living, working environment. A real treat on yesterday’s walk around this beautifully situated farm was to see and hear the Skylarks singing, warning all of our approaches. How rare is that! Peter mentioned how a great variety of dung beetles have now returned after he and Mary stopped using routine antibiotics on the herd. This, in turn, is now helping the local bat population to flourish.
The South Hams Society didn’t need to go to West Sussex to discover a farm where the owners have fought and struggled to successfully return their land and animals to nature, we found it at Challons Combe and we would like to congratulate Mary, Peter and their family, on creating a little bit of paradise in the South Hams. If you want to discover just how special this farm is, I recommend you try their organic range of dairy products – you can almost taste the love, care and dedication that has gone into producing it.
8 March 2020