song thrush

Objective – increase biodiversity

The history

Carbeth Home Farm has a rich history in both anthropological and biological terms. The waterfall, Blairessan Spout, tucked away in the woodland along our southern boundary, was the site of a battle between Romans and Scots. The first recorded owners of the estate were the Buchanans, relatives of George Buchanan, historian and tutor to James VI.

This rich history is still evident today in the ancient natural woodland on the farm, as well as the parkland and the arboretum, full of trees brought back by Victorian plant hunters, that is currently being painstakingly restored.

Thankfully, Carbeth Home Farm has never been a victim of the homogenisation of the landscape that is so common in our times and so hostile to natural organisms and processes. In creating the estate’s “designed landscape”, its aristocratic custodians left space for nature because they found it beautiful, rather than inconvenient.  

Until around the 1960s, Carbeth produced cereals & potatoes as well as supporting a dairy herd, beef cattle & sheep. When it last changed ownership in 2000 however, the farmland had been rented out seasonally for decades – a situation that did little to incentivise good long term management and, combined with climate change and the heavier rainfall it brought, resulted in compacted soil, suitable only for grazing sheep.

Carbeth House
Generations – Carbeth House, parkland and young trees planted in 2006 under a Scottish Forestry Grant scheme to increase tree planting in Scotland, and to protect the nearby watercourse

The present

Under the custodianship of the present owner, Daye Tucker, and with the support of Scottish Government and EU grants, there has once again been  investment in the natural habitats on the estate, primarily in the form of tree and hedge planting.

Extract from 2017 Biodiversity and Conservation Review

Farmland birds at Carbeth Home Farm include skylark, song thrush, tree sparrow, house sparrow, linnet, reed bunting, yellowhammer and starling. Over the UK many of these species have declined in the past few decades due mainly to the changes in farming practices with less mixed farming, reduced areas of wetland and species diverse grasslands and a loss or reduction of boundary habitats including hedges grass and water margins. This is why Carbeth Home Farm is important as it has retained many important features.

The diverse farm woodlands also support a wide range of important species. The varied shrubs and trees flower and produce fruit and berries at different times of year so the woodlands have a continued food suppy for wildlife. Open glades within woodlands are valuable for woodland invertebrates especially butterflies and many other insects spend part of their lifecycle in deadwood so this is an essential element of any woodland.

Other important farmland species associated with Carbeth Home Farm are barn owl and bats. Scottish barn owls live almost entirely on field voles that make up almost 90% of the diet. A major factor influencing barn owl population levels is the number of voles in any particular year, as vole population levels are cyclical. Other small mammals such as mice and shrews are also important. There are excellent foraging habitats on the farm for barn owls as field voles thrive in unbroken tussocky grasslands such as those provided by extensively managed pastures, hedge margins, riparian buffer zone and the open habitats created by the tree planting.

Hare in the House Park field

The future

Our ambition is to continue and substantially extend our work to promote biodiversity at Carbeth Home Farm. We hope to invite people from our local community, from nearby cities and towns, and from far beyond, to come and enjoy this beautiful place and to learn about its delicate ecosystems. We were incredibly excited and encouraged to learn very recently that the new owners of a neighbouring farm share our objectives, and we look forward to working in partnership with them, collaborating, sharing ideas and resources.

We will be seeking extensive advice and support from government, private and charitable organisations to help us to establish a management plan that is adapted to our particular situation and objectives. Having a small land area, and being very close to busy rural communities, our project will not much resemble the grand re-wilding schemes that are currently attracting so much interest (and indeed controversy) in the Highlands of Scotland. There will certainly not be any apex predator introduction at Carbeth. The re-wilding at Knepp in Sussex is a huge inspiration. Although their hands-off approach and removal of internal fences is better suited to their 3500 acres than to our 400, we can learn much from their experiences. 

We will seek advice to help us to promote and maintain healthy, sustainable and diverse ecosystems.

Some possibilities

Introduction of low numbers of hardy native breed pigs and cattle

Our wet and fragile soil would not support commercially viable herds of livestock in its current condition, but very small numbers could be valuable in the promotion of biodiversity for their grazing, browsing and fertilising capabilities. The selection of hardy breeds and the low grazing density are crucial to avoid the necessity for supplementary feed (which would increase our carbon footprint), and for avermectins (wormers) and other drugs. When passed in dung, these are harmful to invertebrates and microorganisms in the soil.

Allow some areas of scrub to develop

Although penalised under the current farm subsidy structure, diverse scrub is an important habitat for a range of wildlife and could be allowed to develop around some field margins.

Restoration of species rich grassland

Actively encouraging the growth of wild flowers and a variety of native grasses provides pollen and nectar sources for a range of invertebrates.

Yellowhammer – Photo credit

Share this post