Many thanks to Dr. Ruth Watkins for providing the following information about her meadows…
Carmarthenshire Meadows Group
Questionnaire for Members who Own/Manage land
Name: Dr Ruth Watkins
Home Address: Pengraig goch, Llanddeusant, Llangadog, Carms SA19 9TH (soil type surface water gley soil, stagnogley over glacial till. Old Red Sandstone)
Location of land Owned/managed: Graze with sheep about 10 Ha at Porth y Rhyd Llanwrda and small group of wethers graze a hermits field near Rhandirmwyn in winter. (clay and shallow mudstone siltstone soil over rock, Ordovician)
Area of Land Owned/managed: About 37Ha Area/proportion of grassland: over 2/3
Area/proportion of meadow: SSSI about 22 acres, wet meadows, fen and heath. Hay meadows about 12 acres, rest of grassland rushy in parts (quite wet) but none of it improved- it would be called semi-natural grassland
How long have you owned it? Owned my farm 17 years. Rented land about 10 years.
Have you changed the management for any reason? No
Grassland Habitat Types: (circle as appropriate and please underline dominant type)
|Meadow – grass dominated||Meadow – herb rich||Orchard (circle sward type as well)|
|Improved Pasture (v.few flower types – white clover)||Semi-improved pasture (higher species diversity but not rare plants)||Unimproved pasture (quite rare! v.high species diversity incl. rare species)|
|Marshy grassland (poorly drained – more or less wet all year)||Flood Meadow (seasonally wet – usu by river)||Heathy grassland (acid soils some heather in/around)|
|Garden meadow (smaller areas for amenity not hay / grazing etc)||Other (Please specify):|
Do you make hay, silage or haylage? I make haylage, or some hay if ever there is an opportunity. Ideally the hay fields are closed for about 10 weeks before cutting (cut from middle of July to middle of August) If the fields are left longer the quality of the haylage/hay is poor and less palatable. As my stock must eat it I care that it is good. Their health depends on it.
For your own livestock? or for sale? I make large bale haylage or occasionally some hay- twice made some small bales but they must be got in before the dew falls. I have a tractor and the handling equipment and trailer for large bales (wrapped). Sometimes I sell excess bales. I make 60 to 80 a year.
Do you use fertilisers (including slurry/manure), lime, herbicide or other treatments? I took advice from an organic farming consultant initially as the farm was in conversion when I bought it (OFGS). I left organic as soon as I could, in 2005. I wrote an open letter to the Soil Association on my reasons, both for animal health but also conservation- I would never have been able to graze the fen meadow as I have had to cut down scrub and trees and poison stumps every year. I do not use mineral NPK fertilisers. I spread manure every other year on each hay field- it has composted for a year before it is spread- straw rich manure from sheep and cattle. Soil analysis and PH, including trace elements were measured and informed the guided decision to use organically permitted fertiliser. 2002 Gafsa (ground stone containing P), Mylenite (ground stone containing K) and granulated Lime- a few years later Magnesium rich lime and trace elements from trace element services (selenium cobalt zinc and copper). The 2 hay fields were treated and a couple of drier semi-improved grass fields were also treated with with lime and trace elements. I have not tried to bring the PH up to agricultural norm of 6 to 7 nor the recommended levels of NPK.
The farm had not been improved in a modern agricultural way before I bought it, though some oversowing with white clover and calcified seaweed under organic permission had been done on some drier grassland. I suspect a little NPK mineral fertiliser may have been used in one or two fields but this was never confirmed on my talks with the previous owners. Nor had they been ploughed and reseeded with modern seed (no Italian rye grass). The previous owners had a string of traditional farms here and mine had received little attention other than entry into the Tir Cymen scheme in 1993. It had been a tenanted farm of no especial note (small barns).
Any notable species present?: Many species of plants on the SSSI fields, most notably a relict population of Marsh Helleborine (NVC survey from 1991 by Graham Motley and Jamie Bevan) . I have noticed the Small Fruited Yellow Sedge and the Round Fruited Rush on the edges in several places, really testament to no fertiliser and new records for East Carmarthenshire. There is a sub-population of June July flowering Devil’s Bit Scabious on the Wet Heath as well as the usual August September flowering population quite widespread on the fen and marshy grassland. Meadow thistle is quite widespread. I have noticed about 4 types of wax-caps appearing on the sheep grazed drier grassland of the Upper River and Lower River fields. There is ancient woodland and its plants (recorded by Richard Pryce the botanic recorder, as well as the fields) and alder carr with water avens. I have lots of common frogs, toads and palmate newts but no snakes yet recorded though provision made to attract grass snakes. Common lizard. Lots of invertebrates of many kinds- small heath butterfly noticed in recent years, small pearl bordered fritillary, green hairstreak but no colony of Marsh fritillary other than recordings of late tattered specs. 5-spotted burnet moth, emperor moth, garden tiger, lobster moth and so on. Lots of bees including Bombus monticola. Lots of beetles including green tiger beetles. Dragonflies and damselflies including the golden–ringed and emperor dragonflies. Birds of wood, hedgerow and field- wood and willow warblers, pied fly catchers, meadow and tree pipits, mistle thrushes, green woodpecker, merlins (not in summer), snipe and woodcock in winter too, dippers and grey wagtails on the river. I have the hated Goshawk so the sparrow hawks, tawny owls and wood pigeon (that used to fall prey to the peregrine along with some snipe) have gone or almost gone. Dormice. Also weasels, pole cats, badger incursion and the hedgehog population now gone 4 years. Mink in past near river and otter to eat some frogs on the Gwaun Pwll field of 6 small amphibian and invert ponds.
What types or aspects of management are you most interested in learning about or practising?
I am probably settled in my methods now. If I had known the field names on my farm and therefore uses, and layout of the fields so their loss since 65 years ago, and was young and dandy, I would want to know about having my arable upper and lower acres, wood pasture and management of woodland. I feel my woodland management has not been very successful- the advice taken from various people was not good enough, informed enough and without the old field and farm maps such as the 1910 ordinance survey at field level, I have not been able to understand what best to do. The coupes I made for the FC funding in 2001 in the 2ary woodland just turned out to be mega-bramble coupes- the secondary woodland of which I have quite a bit is species poor, choking ancient alder pollards, and impenetrable with machete-requiring flowerless brambles. FC suggested natural wood regeneration on a wet field, the Gwaun pwll field now with ponds- this was not appropriate as I have had the Grasshopper warbler some years on this field. I have removed much of the alder and willow and now pollard a few willows and allow a few alder, oak and hazel. I created a hazel coppice and did other planting for dormice that has been successful (summer dormouse nest found) but an old hazel coppice by the river in the 2ary woodland has not been identified for coppicing and I think it should have been. I am also going to pollard some younger oaks I planted and am not sure how best to do this- lop off at 6 feet when 4inches diameter? I have small leaved lime by the river in the ancient woodland and very old crab apples with tiny green apples less than an inch dotted about the farm, some now marooned in the 2ary woodland; neither tree reproduces naturally here now.
I have gradually understood how to manage my hedges: Coppicing some, flailing a few, and laying some. The hedges around the marshy grassland cannot be cut by tractors every year as they cut the wet ground up and encourage soft rushes- so cut back every 15 years or so.
What conservation/natural history are you most interested in learning about? e.g. Plants/plant identification, invertebrates, fungi, traditional management, local areas/habitats etc
I would be most interested in identifying plants and invertebrates. Managing woodland habitat of various kinds is another area of interest.