Skip to main content
A Magazine for Sheffield

We speak to the team who want to bring nature-friendly farming to Sheffield

A new project aims to “unite farmers and the public with a passion for wildlife and sustainability in farming”. We spoke to the team about their vision for the nature-rich site.

20231012 123009

The team at the Sheffield & Rotherham Wildlife Trust working on Ughill Farm.

Sheffield & Rotherham Wildlife Trust.

Terms like regenerative agriculture, sustainable agriculture and nature-friendly farming have become more present in the public eye in recent years. Although they all mean slightly different things, they share a common goal of caring for our natural environment.

This goal is shared by charities like the Sheffield & Rotherham Wildlife Trust, whose core objective is to protect wildlife and green spaces and stand up for threatened areas while empowering others to take action for nature. One of their latest projects involves the purchase of a farm just outside Sheffield, in the hills south of Agden Reservoir, that they hope will be the perfect test bed for exploring nature-friendly farming techniques unique to our area of the UK.

We spoke to Martin Reed, Project Officer and Advisor at the Trust, about why they’re fundraising for the new farm and to find out how the people of Sheffield can get involved.

What are the aims for Ughill Farm? Why are you fundraising?

The central focus is on testing and learning how an upland hill farm can be managed to produce agricultural output sustainably while also improving biodiversity and abundance.

At the micro scale we aim to increase the land's capacity for flood alleviation and, with a wider view, provide a positive influence on earth's atmosphere through carbon sequestration. Additionally, we aim to preserve the local heritage features such as dry stone walls.

We hope to be supported to do this through volunteer engagement and will be working with the local universities to develop students’ practical conservation and biological recording skills. We are fundraising to be able to purchase the land to be held in perpetuity by the trust, and to set up nature-friendly farming activities.

What's the history of the site? What was there before?

It is thought to have been founded in the 10th century by a group of Norwegian Vikings with the name deriving from the Old Norse language, with Uhgil meaning Uha's Valley or Uggagil meaning Uggi's Valley.

Until 1977, parts of the site had been mined for pot clay, a very mouldable type of fireclay long used to make crucibles for the local steel industry. More recently, the majority of the 130 hectares has been farmed for livestock production.

What are the biggest challenges?

One of the biggest challenges onsite is the scale of maintenance required on such a large farm. There are around 12 kilometres of dry stone wall in various states of repair. As I’ve mentioned, there is a fair bit of clay onsite, and combined with the steep Peak District hills it makes for some interesting logistics for machinery.

This is an important site for curlews, golden plover and other nationally threatened wading birds. How will the project help protect and support these?

The project will support waders through active grassland management that favours these species. The area already boasts a high proportion of ground nesting waders, and we hope to encourage resident breeding pairs through habitat creation and carefully managed access.

We will also minimise disturbance during breeding season by monitoring, and targeting practical work at a time that doesn’t clash with wader presence.

What other types of wildlife have you found at the site?

Baseline ecological monitoring has begun this year and 63 species of birds have been recorded. Mammal-wise there are brown hare, rabbit, badger, grey squirrel, mole, stoat, weasel, field voles and roe deer.

So far 15 species of butterfly and counting, including Small Heath and Wall, which are both species of principal importance under the law in England. Waxcaps and associated upland acid grassland fungi. A host of invertebrates – the more you look the more you see – and an extensive list of wildflowers. Also common toad, frogs and lizards.

What do you mean by nature-friendly farming? Are you basing this on existing research or is it more of an experiment site?

Nature-friendly farming is an attempt to be considerate towards wildlife on the farm, and to value it as a beneficial factor in the farm system that can nurture soil and contribute towards animal health and welfare.

20231110 134422

Ughill Farm, in the hills south of Agden Reservoir.

Sheffield & Rotherham Wildlife Trust.

The Trust are aligned with the Nature Friendly Farming Network, which aims to unite farmers and the public with a passion for wildlife and sustainability in farming. We will also be working with other local farmers in the area to test and learn nature-friendly farming practices.

How does Ughill Farm fit into the wider goals of the trust?

Sheffield & Rotherham Wildlife Trust is a wildlife charity first and foremost, and a core aspect of our work is that we aim to conserve and create habitat for native species. We are working towards our ambition of ensuring that 30% of land and water is great for nature by 2030. Taking ownership of Ughill Farm means that we not only will ensure that our 130 hectares are great for nature, but we hope to be able to work alongside other landowners to achieve this aim.

By working in agriculture we hope to learn from farmers and bring ecological expertise into the industry in a very practical way. Most of the UK is agricultural land – look at any satellite image!

What are the first things you’ll do when you get the farm?

We will stock-proof the outer boundary so that livestock don’t get out – some new stock-proof fencing, field gates and dry stone wall repair and rebuild. We will also be setting up a volunteering team as well as continuing baseline ecological monitoring.

When will people be able to come and visit?

There are two public rights of way on site which are open to the public every day. There is also a road which provides a fantastic view of the vast majority of the site. It is a very open landscape, and being so hilly it's a great place to bring a pair of binoculars.

20231031 141939

The team have fenced off one of the old mineshafts they found on-site.

Sheffield & Rotherham Wildlife Trust.

This boundary access means that people can enjoy the site while protecting the land for wildlife.

What would you like, want or need from the people of Sheffield to make the Ughill Farm project as successful as possible?

The fundraising campaign has been a great success so far, with over £70,000 raised from the local community. We are hugely encouraged by peoples’ generosity towards the project. Funding is still needed to help us set the farm up for nature-friendly farming work and donations can be made on our website.

The next couple of years will not be short on challenges as we test and learn the best way to manage Ughill Farm. We are looking forward to involving our members, friends and the local community on our progress and hope to hold regular visits and information events about progress at Ughill.

by Luke Neve (he/him)

More Climate & Environment

Mind the (emissions) gap

Carbon emissions are still increasing as global policies fail to address climate change. Could systems thinking be the way forward?

More Climate & Environment