For anyone visiting Lynbreck Croft for the first time, it is difficult not to leave with a sense of inspiration, understanding and a longing. SNH Graduate Placement Kirsten Brewster recently did just that in order to interview young crofter Lynn Cassells for the project “Engaging farmers with Biodiversity”.
The Cairngorms act as a spectacular backdrop with rolling cloud banks and sun-dappled moorlands; winds abound with the sounds of the Highlands, with close proximity to transport routes and tourism spots. The sense of scale and opportunity is clear to anyone who follows the boundary fence across a variety of land uses.
Lynn, and her partner Sandra, acquired a 150-acre croft in early 2016 and have since set about working the land which has only had two family owners in the last century. Moving in to the area with fresh eyes has allowed both of them to identify many opportunities for development. The pair place a huge importance on starting from the ground up… literally; their interest in improving soil health, natural land management and good agricultural practice is apparent when listening to their future hopes and plans. In their own words they hope that:
“…every decision we make has to have a positive environmental impact. We don’t want to alter things in any way that isn’t ecologically sound.”
One thing to bear in mind when exploring Lynbreck is the reality that this is a working agricultural business. With a wealth of experience in the field of forestry – both previously worked with the Borders Forest Trust and the National Trust for Scotland – the first objective was to secure grant funding to expand on the woodland inherited with the croft. They will create a further 14 hectares (17,500 trees!) of new native woodland and promote new natural regeneration. To do this they are fencing out and actively culling both deer and rabbit populations, Lynn recently completed her deer stalking ticket.
To achieve their afforesting ambitions they have embraced livestock as a solution: three Oxford sandy and black pigs are moved around in paddocks, preparing the ground for the planting of a new shelterbelt. A small number of Highland cattle will graze the grassland to break up the tussocky grass, followed by chickens that will scatter the cow pats around spreading the natural fertiliser. These low intensity practices promote establishment of a more species-rich habitat. A helping hand to this process will be the introduction and development of several hives of native black bees, which are being brought in to further enrich ‘Team Lynbreck’.
Lynn and Sandra, both Young Farmers and New Entrants, are making the most of agricultural and forestry grants available to them. These invaluable sources of funding will help them complete as many Capital works as they have time to manage. This includes the establishment of a 900-meter hedge funded through the Woodland Trust MOREhedges scheme. They also intend to enter the Agri-Environment Climate Scheme early next year to establish a grassland meadow.
Development of eco-tourism is also planned for future years with the diversification of the croft: they plan to renovate the original stone-built croft house into a holiday home with views out over Abernethy forest, for short-term rental, and use by visitors – appealing for those who want to reconnect with the Scottish Highlands. There is also the potential of incorporating further accommodation into the croft – but not too much as the real selling point of Lynbreck is its tranquillity. A traditional byre nearby will also be re-developed into a storage space for feed, produce and equipment.
In the longer term, the diverse mix of native broadleaf woodland will be used for grazing the herd of highland cattle in a silvopastoral system. The new growth will provide shelter, improved soil health and fodder for the livestock.
Lynn and Sandra recognise the merit of engagement: they hope to engage and educate the wider community about their new venture in croft management through demo days with the Soil Association, the Woodland Trust and other organisations. They also currently dedicate a significant amount of time to their online presence. They understand that to move forward and to inspire others, it is vital to narrate their journey, encourage enthusiasm and support diversity in crofting practice. They have already established a positive audience by posting updates, images and stories on the Lynbreck blog, Twitter and Facebook.
The sustainable, environmentally-friendly credentials of Lynbreck are important for generating necessary income from their produce: beef, pork, eggs and honey will be sold locally, and hopefully advertised to conscious consumers through their website.
Lynbreck Croft is the first in a line of exciting conversations Kirsten will be having as part of her graduate placement and stands as a great example of diversity within the young farmer and crofting community. Lynn and Sandra, as they confess are, “living the dream”.
Having successfully established themselves at Lynbreck, Lynn and Sandra can now focus on honing their model of croft management. The success of Lynbreck Croft, and the beauty of the site highlights how dedication, hard work and a little risk and experimentation can pay off.
By Kirsten Brewster and Steven Sinclair, SNH Graduate Placements