A few days ago a pedigree herd of Dexter cattle arrived at St George’s Farm. The cattle are looked after by the Wyre Community Land Trust which now has its home here. They had just passed their regular tests for TB, essential for preventing the spread of the disease, with flying colours. This was a huge relief, as always, for Sally the farm manager.
The Dexter cattle are at the heart of the work of the CLT. They carry out ‘conservation grazing’ on land owned by the Guild of St George and small parcels of land owned by others around the Wyre Forest. The Forest’s meadows make a vital contribution to the wildlife diversity of the area and the cattle play an essential role in that. The Dexter originates from Ireland. It was once considered a rare breed but has seen a resurgence in popularity over recent years. Being relatively small and lightweight they do little damage to soil structure and the way they graze helps maintain wildflower rich swards. They seem to graze more by night, the herb-rich grass made more succulent by the evening dew, and quite noisily too! And as they are a hardy breed they can be kept outside year round.
It seems to me that the grazing system the CLT operates is a kind of Midlands version of transhumance farming, where cattle are moved to take full advantage of seasonal growing conditions, carried out in Alpine Europe and other mountainous regions across the globe.
The Dexters also provide a useful stream of income to the CLT, not just from landowners who pay for their services but also from the meat they provide on a regular basis. Demand is growing for pasture-fed beef and Dexter beef is renowned for its high quality and much sought after in top-notch restaurants. The choices we make about what we eat, whether we are vegan or omnivores, are a defining feature of our relationship with the natural world. As people become more discerning about the meat they consume, its provenance and the conditions under which it is produced, the market for Dexter beef will continue to expand.
We were also pleased to welcome a vegan visitor to St George’s Farm last week. Arjun comes from New Delhi, India’s capital city. He had been inspired by John Ruskin’s writing and wanted to find out more about his influence in the Wyre. Ruskin’s reach is truly international. Arjun had come to Ruskin through his influence on Mahatma Ghandi, father of the Indian nation, and the great Bengali poet, painter and composer, Rabindranath Tagore. He had spent much of the previous month volunteering at Yasnaya Polyana, the estate that belonged to Leo Tolstoy, another of Ruskin’s international supporters. Here are some of his reflections on his visit to Ruskin Land:
‘The house was beautiful, and the location, very quiet, serene. They had prepared some ratatouille for me, without cheese, and baked sweet and regular potato. We talked about India, and about Russia, about them, and about myself……..
I woke up earlier than Neil and Lynne. We had breakfast, porridge, and left for a walk through the forest. Passing through fields, an orchard, talking about the forest, and life, one after the other, and side by side, we picked apples, and mushrooms, crossed a brook, stopped by an old corn mill…..
Before they’d drop me off at the station, we went to the Bewdley museum. There was a library there, dedicated to the works of Ruskin, on the first floor. In the morning, I’d been reading the introduction to Ruskin’s autobiography, Praeterita. I hadn’t not known about his mental disturbance later in his life; but of course, that does not change, in any way, my impression of him; perhaps it even deepens it. I found out about Deucalion, a book I should read perhaps; it seems to contain that poetical treatment of science I’ve been struggling towards. Bewdley, like all English towns, was charming; and the personal-ness of Lynne and Neil lent it an even further humanness.
On the train, I felt so incredibly happy again, as then when in Yasnaya; and thought to myself, ‘I should not hold myself back now.’