Straeon Ffermwyr

Catherine Withers - Ffermio Diddordeb Cyhoeddus gyda Dulliau Ffermio Traddodiadol

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Catherine Withers is a farmer from Bristol who has adopted her great-grandfather's traditional farming methods with her livestock, poultry and vegetable crops. These techniques are not only positively impacting the natural environment surrounding the 24 hectares she farms, they have also helped Catherine with the marketing of her produce and client loyalty.

The techniques have been of great interest to the public and helped us with marketing and drawing in a solid strong customer base. I am seeing that the public appetite for nature-friendly farming is growing.

Catherine Withers

Yew Tree Farm is primarily a livestock farm that runs a beef cattle herd, pedigree Welsh pigs and poultry. Catherine started intensive pig farming at the farm when she was 19, back in 1990. But when it was no longer financially viable, she gave up pigs. She still however continued to help feed the cattle and calve the cows.

Catherine then returned to full-time farming in 2018, which was when she also diversified to grow fruit and nut trees and vegetable crops, as well as introduce bee hives onto the land. Her on-site farm shop even sells the farm's produce including eggs, meat, vegetables, apple juice, cider, cordials, jams and chutney.

The farm works closely with the local community, often offering talks and visits to interested residents. Catherine acknowledges that she depends on her local community for produce sales, with her customer base being proud of living in a city but still being able to walk to their local farm. This reliance on locals heavily influenced the decision to ensure they feel involved with her farm, "the closer and more involved they feel with the farm, the more I hope they support us in uncertain times!".

Attending local markets, with friends and family to support, also helps Catherine to spread the word and she notes that selling both hot and cold produce has helped increase her customer base.

Catherine was initially very worried about adopting nature-friendly farming methods. She believes she had always wanted to farm in this way but wasn't confident of there being a market for her produce. She acknowledged that there was a risk with finishing and selling the pork herself but made the decision to start the transition over four years ago.

In the search for nature-friendly farming systems, Catherine looked to adopt some of her great-grandfather's hands-off and chemical-free approaches to agriculture. She started by reflecting back on any unnecessary or damaging changes that had been made to the landscape in recent years. She also read books that "changed her life" including Silent Earth by Dave Goulson and Wilding by Isabella Tree.

She started to make connections with the natural world in ways she didn't understand before. She now feels "it is a privilege to be able to improve habitats and nature recovery whilst producing fabulous food". Catherine quickly began restoring ancient lost orchards, improving the woodlands to over 1,000 trees and re-digging old ponds.

The livestock are also farmed in a similar way to her predecessors; with the cattle drinking from the stream (which is also home to otters!) and the pigs living outside as much as possible. The farm also uses little electricity in the animal barns and is extremely focused on keeping low stocking rates on the land to help improve stock health and reduce reliance on chemical wormers. The historic farming practices she has chosen to adopt further include composting the animal muck to use it for growing her vegetable crops, as well as to sell on as a soil improver.

It has been a journey of self education that has paid us back so richly, with healthy stock and plentiful food.

Catherine Withers, Yew Tree Farm

Thanks to Catherine's dedication to nature-friendly farming, Yew Tree Farm is also a haven for wildlife, with natural life and habitats on the farm being actively observed, respected and encouraged. She reports that after introducing a small scrape in a pond on the farm, tadpoles had arrived within just a week. She also noticed how since improving the hay meadow biodiversity to over 90 plants and committing to a late cut; there has been a distinct increase in dung beetles, skylarks that are nesting, various other song birds and many invertebrates on the farm. Yew Tree Farm is now proudly home to over 40 bird species and 20 wild mammals.

It does not seem that Yew Tree Farm has reached its pinnacle just yet however, and Catherine has further ambitions to continue with farm's improvements and public engagement. Such initiatives include a ‘Bee in Front’ scheme, where local residents will be encouraged to grow pollinator-friendly plants on their driveways or in their front gardens. Catherine states that the only negative of choosing a nature-friendly future for her farming business is that she is "very conscious of what more I could do and impatient to get on with it!"

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