FARMING experts from all over Europe will gather in the Yorkshire Dales today (Monday) to study a unique experiment which could take hill farming back to the future.
Pen-y-Ghent - one of the areas covered by the Limestone
For many years, conservationists have complained that over-grazing by sheep has done large scale damage in areas with similar geography to the Dales. The main problem is that sheep crop some grasses too short - killing off rare wild plants - but ignore other, tougher grasses which then grow into unsightly clumps, encouraging the spread of scrub.
The Yorkshire Dales National Park Authority has been running a pioneering experiment of re-introducing hardy breeds of cattle to certain high pastures at Malham and on Pen-y-Ghent which do not crop the grass too close - allowing wild flowers and other plants to grow and seed - will eat the tougher grasses and, most importantly, can survive the harsh hillside winters.
Such cattle were once widely farmed in the Dales but Government and EU policy encouraged farmers to graze more sheep and thee rare breeds virtually died out. But some experts think that going back to the old ways is the future of farming.
Today, experts from all over Europe will be gathering in the national Park for a three-day workshop hosted by the Limestone Country Project (LCP), a scheme run by the YDNPA and English Nature that was voted Number One in the Eurosite Awards 2005 in September last year.
It will explore what can be done to maintain or re-establish appropriate grazing management
Louise Williams - Project Officer
The project encourages farmers to swap sheep for herds of traditional types of cattle like Blue Greys and Beef Short Horns that can survive the harsh winters living off the rough grasses, giving plants time to recover.
The YDNPA's LCP Officer, Louise Williams, said: "This is a major conference on the management of Europe's limestone landscapes - or karst - and it has attracted interest from 30 delegates from all over Europe - from Leeds to Latvia.
"It will explore what can be done to maintain or re-establish appropriate grazing management and to make the management of these landscapes financially sustainable."