Stantyway Farm is a 300 acre organic mixed farm on the Jurassic Coast of East Devon producing wheat, oats, beans, quinoa, grass, lucerne and clover to sell to specialist organic markets or to feed to their suckler cows and their calves.
It is the most eastward regular breeding site for Cirl buntings in the south west and is biodiverse and rich in wildlife.
They also have a range of farm projects going on, including an Honesty Cafe and the restored Brandy Head Observation Post offering clifftop accommodation for up to six people.
We travelled around the farm by tractor and trailer and, though the sky was hazy, the views were superb.
Starting at the farm yard we first visited a wildflower mix blocks in both year one and two. The range of plants was superb and it is easy to see why insects abound on this farm. One plant that stood out for me was phacelia, which I use as a green manure in my garden. There was also various cereals mixed into the seed mix and now dotted across the fields.
Then we saw how 6 metre wide headlands surround the arable fields. The inner three metres are cut a few times a year to allow shorter grass and mixed vegetation for grasshoppers etc. This encourages the cirl buntings and yellowhammers.
In a field of lucerne, farmer Sam Walker dug a hole, and we saw how deep the roots penetrate and that they have nodules on their roots. These root nodules fix nitrogen and as the plant grows it, like the grass crops as well, carbon is sequestered. The lucerne is harvested 3-4 times a year, it grows extremely fast even on these dry soils, and goes to speciality markets. If I tell you the animals that it was sold to feed, I doubt everyone will believe me. But its giraffes.
Another crop we saw was red clover. Most red clover seed is grown in New Zealand and Sam is experimenting with growing seed here. But it has to pass extremely rigorous purity tests before it can be harvested for seed. If there is risk of it being contaminated with other seeds, and there are plenty of wildflowers nearby, then it is deemed unfit for combining.
Another crop we say were the herbal leys. These comprise a mix of species, far too many for me to recall but what was obvious just standing there was the amount of sorrel and chicory, the laters sky blue flowers were so obvious. The mix is based on the work of Frank Newman Turner. his book, Fertility Farming, Fertility Pastures, and Herdsmanship are regarded as classics of practical organic husbandry. All three are still on Amazon … follow the links. The fact that someone that died in 1964 is still so influential today fascinates me. Like the work of Frederick Charles King and his No Dig gardening books we owe a lot to these pioneers and are slowly realising how their work is still relevant today.
As an aside, Newman Turner had an unusual academic start in life. He took both the National Diploma in Agriculture (NDA) and the ND in Dairying (NDD). The latter at Glasgow University. The NDD is more than an agricultural qualification, it delved into the manufacture of dairy products; cheese, butter, yoghurt etc. Seeing this made me smile as a few years after he died I also took the NDD at Seale-Hayne College. It was a couple of years that shaped my life and interest in both the wider countryside and food manufacture and my first job after the course was to manage a large manufacturing dairy in Plymouth. Interestingly, mentions on the course of bacteria and fungi was as a cheese starter in the case of bacteria or a disease causing agent of cattle with fungi being classed as a disease causing agent of cereals. Indeed I spent a whole year on a pedology module and it was never mentioned. Strange when pedology should include soil ecology! The reason I mention this is because today we recognise how vital bacteria and fungi are in the soil, and Sam stressed this time after time as we travelled around the farm. He also mentioned soil organic matter, which in my day was just a figure derived from lab analysis. No real discussion was conducted on why it was important when I studied. I have learnt a lot since I was educated!
A highlight for me was the visit to the quinoa field. Crop establishment had been extremely difficult this year and the crop was nothing like the one I saw on the farm last year. It’s a fascinating crop though. I discuss growing quinoa as a garden crop here. The images of quinoa were taken last year at Stantyway.
Our afternoon finished with a visit to the Brandy Head Observation post. Today it is possible to stay in this clifftop building .. it is available for rental, just follow the link. During WWII the building was used to develop and test gunnery sights on fighter aircraft. The work was led by Bennet Melvill-Jones who was later knighted. Just follow the links to discover more.
During the several hours we were on the farm we saw birds, moths, numerous plants and insects and learnt so much about how farms can be managed alongside biodiversity today.
Our thanks to Sam Walker for his time showing us around an extremely biodiverse farm.
SVBG is a not for profit organisation dependant on volunteers, grants and donations. Without funding we cannot operate and many of our biodiversity projects will cease.
Even the smallest donation can make a difference to wildlife such as the kingfisher on our logo.
The easiest way to donate a small sum is to click here to Donate
lf you want to give a larger donation, or for a specific project please get in touch via our Contacts page