Ricky and Lyn Rennie graze their animals on and around some of England’s most special pastures at Stewdon farm, linking up the patchwork of ancient ‘culm’ grassland. These grasslands define the landscape in their part of West Devon. Stewdon farm bridges two holdings and is run in a partnership with Sally and Marcus Vergette, who have spent the last three decades sensitively managing the wildly diverse pastures, woodlands and fens that make up their land. Under their watch, rare marsh fritillary butterflies have increased and now breed in huge numbers, alongside dormice, barn owls, kestrels, ravens, spotted flycatchers and many others.
In 2020, Ricky and Lyn and took on the ex-dairy farm next door, with the aim of restoring the land to its former glory, expanding habitats for the neighbouring wildlife, and producing high quality beef and sheep in the process. After studying old maps and records of the farm, they are now reinstating old hedges, restoring wildflower meadows and orchards, and introducing wood pastures. As these features mature they will turn the clock back year by year, recreating the dynamic and diverse farmland habitat that once defined much of England.
In keeping with their surroundings, Ricky and Lyn breed Devon Closewool and Jacobs, two of England’s oldest sheep breeds which do well on the rough grassland and mature slowly through the late summer and into winter. As time goes on, they will build up the pedigree angus cattle herd that has long been on the farm to graze alongside the sheep, better providing the varied grazing behaviour that the habitats require and producing sumptuous beef alongside the lamb.