SHEPHERD Dan Jones and his young family have moved in to their ‘dream farm’, the National Trust’s £1 million Parc Farm on the Great Orme, North Wales.
Dan, 38, from Anglesey, is renting the 145-acre coastal farm for just £1 a year. His appointment follows the National Trust’s international search for a farmer to look after Parc Farm.
Experienced shepherd Dan will work closely with the Trust and wild plant conservation charity Plantlife to uphold the tradition of hill farming in this area while helping protect the Great Orme’s globally rare habitats and species.
Some of these species, like the Great Orme Berry, are found nowhere else on earth.
He is joined on the farm by his wife Ceri, 39, son Efan, 8, four sheepdogs and a flock of 295 Lleyn and Herdwick sheep which they aim to grow to 400 and will be farmed primarily for meat but also for their wool.
They have moved into a newly restored farmhouse overlooking the Irish Sea – all of a 200 metre commute to the farmyard.
In addition to the 145 acres of farmland, Dan’s flock will also graze the neighbouring 720 acres of coastal headland.
They have a tricky task ahead due to the specific grazing regime necessary to ensure many of the landscape’s rare, and in some cases unique, habitats and species are not lost forever, and because the Great Orme is so exposed to the elements and the headland is unfenced.
Farmer Dan Jones said: “Despite the challenges I am really looking forward to managing the land in a way that is good for the land, good for nature, good for visitors and is also productive.
“Working with my dogs I’ll be able to encourage the sheep to graze specific areas of the heathland to the right levels and at the right times to improve habitats for both plantlife and wildlife.”
The difficulty in shepherding large flocks on such a large open headland so popular with visitors and walkers has meant that grazing over the past decade has been intensive and limited to the more fertile and protected fields within Parc Farm itself.
“Because grazing the wider headland has been a challenge, nature has suffered and we want to reverse that trend,” Dan continued.
“While I was shepherding on the slopes of Snowdon I saw first-hand how close, conservation shepherding can make a real difference for nature and ensure a landscape becomes even more beautiful and rich in wildlife.
“We’re also looking forward to living in this special place. The farm is in a stunning location which attracts over 600,000 visitors each year and we’ll be able to show people how we’re farming sustainably to protect this landscape forever.”
William Greenwood General Manager for the National Trust in Wales, said: “Our search for a shepherd sparked interest from around the world, but it was a local farmer from Anglesey who shone through the testing recruitment process.
“We’re looking forward to working with Dan – proving that, on this striking coastal headland, farming and wildlife conservation go hand in hand.”
The Great Orme has been identified as an Important Plant Area (IPA) by Plantlife. It’s famed for its rare flowers which are at risk from suffocating under a blanket of thick grass and overgrowth.
Careful grazing on the farm and coastal headland will help protect rare plants like spiked speedwell, which is only found at a handful of sites in the UK.
With support from their members, Plantlife has purchased Dan’s flock of native breed Lleyn and Herdwick sheep which will graze their way through the thick grass to expose the limestone rock beneath to allow small, delicate flowers such as basil thyme, hoary rockrose and spiked speedwell to thrive.
Dr Trevor Dines, botanical specialist at Plantlife, said: “As one of the top five sites for rare flowers in the UK, the Great Orme is a fantastic botanical treasure trove, with familiar flowers like cowslip alongside real rarities you get nowhere else in Wales.
“But over the last 30 years I’ve seen dramatic changes, with fewer flowers and more grass. Years of undergrazing on the coastal edge mean many have disappeared under a thick blanket of rough grass. It will be so exciting to see our flock of sheep – and their 13,000 teeth – getting to work, opening up the turf and creating conditions for these plants to thrive again.”
This project is one example of the National Trust’s ambition to work with farmers to develop sustainable and productive forms of farming and to reverse the UK’s alarming decline in wildlife – 60 per cent in the past 50 years – and to find long term solutions to nurse the countryside back to health.