Helen and Roy Radmore’s Glen Iris farm sits by Burrator Reservoir on South East Dartmoor and, as is traditional in South Devon, their animals spend their lives between the high moor and the warmer and more fertile pastures of the South Coast. The cattle start their lives in the small fields by the Glen Iris farm house and soon follow their mothers up the hill to Sheepstor Common, where cuckoos call from the trees and birds of prey hunt the skylarks, wheatears and meadow pipits that breed in the heath.
From here they have access to thousands of acres of open moorland over which the cattle graze to an invisible but tightly planned system. This is known as hefting - over generations the cattle are trained to return to the same spots, allowing them to move across the moor to the areas that need grazing while avoiding those that benefit from being left alone. This means that precious areas of bird breeding habitat can be managed sensitively, dangerous bogs can be avoided, and poaching can be minimized through the wet winter months.
On the edges of the moor, Helen and Roy cut hay on old, unfertilized meadows at the National Trust’s Shaugh Prior and their home farm, or ‘in-bye’ at Glen Iris. These fields see livestock for just 2 or 3 months a year when sheep and cattle come home at the book ends of the season for calving and lambing. The rest of the time they sit empty, allowing grasses and wildflowers to grow tall and set seed and providing habitat for the blue, small copper and skipper butterflies, and the yellow hammers and whitethroats that feed their young in the margins of the fields.
In their second year, the cattle earmarked for Farm Wilder move to National Trust land at Beesands on the South Coast. Here they graze the coastal heath among colonies of elusive silver studded blue butterflies, before getting fat on red clover grown as part of a mixed farming system designed to support the rare and endangered cirl bunting.