A TOP European Union official is due to visit the Yorkshire Dales this week to study an intriguing experiment which aims to breath life back into long forgotten methods of traditional farming.
The limestone uplands of the Dales once supported hardy cattle as well as sheep but Government policy to push ever-growing production targets over the past 50 years meant that most farmers turned to sheep-only methods.
Apart from taking diversity out of Dales farming, this also damaged the environment: sheep graze so close to the soil that many species of wild flowers and plants, which would have survived on cattle meadows, died out. This had a knock-on effect for birds and insects that lived on the plants.
To combat this, the Yorkshire Dales National Park Authority (YDNPA) and English Nature created the Limestone Country Project on two areas of land near Ingleton and Malham. They persuaded local farmers to reintroduce traditional cattle like Blue Greys and Beef Shorthorns, breeds hardy enough to survive the often harsh Dales winters.
The experiment was backed by a £550,000 EU grant and in September this year won a major EU nature award for natural farming.. On Thursday, Nick Hanley, Head of the European Commission's Nature and Biodiversity Unit, will visit the area to see if any of the lessons learned can be applied in other European countries.