Flocking to the Orme

Shepherd Dan Jones, his young family, and Plantlife’s flock of nearly 300 sheep have moved into a ‘dream farm’, the National Trust’s Parc Farm on the Great Orme in north Wales.

Dan, an experienced shepherd from Anglesey, is renting the 145-acre coastal farm for just £1 a year.

His appointment follows the National Trust’s international search for a farmer to look after Parc Farm. He is joined on the farm by his wife Ceri, son Efan and their four sheepdogs, Nell, Tian, Betty & Floss.

Dan will be working closely with Plantlife and the National Trust to uphold the tradition of farming while helping to protect the Great Orme’s globally rare habitats and species. An extraordinary number of threatened plants occur on the Orme, including our only native species of Cotoneaster - Great Orme Berry (Cotoneaster cambricus, below) - which is found nowhere else on earth:

The diversity of habitats here means the site is recognised internationally as an Important Plant Area (IPA).

Colin Cheesman (Head of Plantlife Cymru) and Dan scoured the autumn livestock markets looking for top quality animals. Colin said, “Lleyn sheep have a thick, close fleece that will help them cope with the exposed weather on the Orme. I took a fancy to Ernie the ram and was delighted to buy him - he’s definitely the boss of the new flock.” Plantlife’s 295 Lleyn sheep will soon be joined by some Herdwick sheep from Cumbria, and the whole flock will eventually number over 400 animals.

Crucially, in addition to the 145 acres of farm pasture, Dan’s flock will also graze the neighbouring 720 acres of coastal headland – grassland and heathland habitats where the botanical interest is found. But these areas have suffered from severe undergrazing since 2001, when foot and mouth meant Parc Farm’s sheep were confined to the farm itself.

Dr Trevor Dines, Plantlife Botanical Specialist, explains “As one of the top five sites for rare flowers in the UK, the Great Orme is a fantastic botanical treasure trove, with familiar flowers like cowslip alongside real rarities you get nowhere else in Wales. But over the last 30 years I’ve seen dramatic changes, with fewer flowers and more grass. Years of undergrazing on the headland mean many have disappeared under a thick blanket of rough grass. It will be so exciting to see our flock of sheep – and their 13,000 teeth - getting to work, opening up the turf and creating conditions for these plants to thrive again.”

Dan and his sheep have a tricky task ahead due to the specific grazing regime necessary to ensure many of the landscape’s rare habitats and species are not lost forever, and because the Great Orme is so exposed and the open headland is unfenced. The difficulty in shepherding large flocks on a large headland so popular with visitors has meant that grazing over the past decade has been limited to the more fertile and protected fields within Parc Farm itself.

“Once they've settled into their new home and got use to being shepherded traditionally using my dogs, I can't wait to get them out onto the headland where harder grazing is really needed.” Dan said. “Trevor has already shown me some of the worst areas, where flowers like spiked speedwell and bloody crane’s-bill are getting swamped by the grass. Hopefully, I’ll be able to shepherd them towards these spots, leave them to graze for the day and then move them on, so we get the level of grazing just right. It’ll be a challenge – it’s a wild and windswept place - but it’ll be great to see what me, my dogs and the Plantlife sheep can do to bring the flowers back.”

All photos in this article (bar Great Orme Berry) © Richard Williams.

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Hoary Rockrose Great Orme (c) Trevor Dines-Plantlife.JPG

Great Orme, Conwy

One of the top five sites for rare and threatened plants in Britain, the Great Orme's flowers are threatened by a lack of grazing. Plantlife brings in the sheep to save them.

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