A pioneering farming project using field management techniques dating back to the 13th century has transformed a stretch of coast into a haven for endangered animals, birds, insects and wildflowers.

The experimental return to “strip-field farming” close to the spectacular Rhossili Bay on the Gower peninsula in south Wales is being credited with a threefold increase in the number of species of wildflowers and the appearance of rare birds such as the hen harrier and grasshopper warbler.

The Vile, which is old English for strip fields, was farmed in the old-fashioned way until the late 1940s. Shortages then led to the intensification of agriculture across the UK including, to a more limited extent, the Vile.

The National Trust, which owns around three-quarters of the 111 acre site, launched a project to wholly restore the strip fields two years ago. Rangers and 80 volunteers have created 2,000 metres of banks and hedges that had been removed to satisfy the demands of heavily mechanised farming, turning six fields into a patchwork of 17 different areas. 

The team has planted a variety of crops including oats, barley, millet and buckwheat, along with flowers such as poppies, lavender and lupins. The sunflower fields, which have wonderful views of the Worm’s Head promontory, have thrilled visitors and drawn huge numbers of bees and other insects.

The National Trust concedes that it is not, for now, an economically viable form of farming, but it hopes ways might be found to make it attractive to some farmers.

Alan Kearsley-Evans, the trust’s countryside manager, said: “It’s fantastic to see such results. We have simply reverted to farming sustainably and with astounding results.

“We know that our farm is very small, but the principle of what we’re doing and the results could be applied to large intensive farms. We aim to prove in a few years just how viable this method is and to showcase the many benefits it delivers.”

Mark Hipkin, a National Trust ranger, said: “By planting vast amounts of sunflowers, poppies and our other crops we have attracted more pollinators and birds. In fact, this year taking a walk through the sunflower fields we’ve seen a bumble bee on nearly every sunflower head.

“We aim to harvest next month in an old 1970s combine harvester which is small enough to turn in the restored narrow strip fields.”

Linnet

Among the flora and fauna that the Trust say have benefited are butterflies such as the small blue, grayling and wall brown. Twenty-three rare bird species and four types of threatened reptiles including adders, slow worms and toads, were also spotted.

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