Farmer’s hard graft to manage Yorkshire’s beautiful moorlands

Bo Scholefield on Wainstall's Moor.  In the summer, purple heather brings a riot of colour.  Pic: Bruce Rollinson.
Bo Scholefield on Wainstall's Moor. In the summer, purple heather brings a riot of colour. Pic: Bruce Rollinson.
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PURPLE HEATHER on the moors has to be one of the most wonderful sights in the countryside and farmer Bo Scholefield is committed to making sure it long remains a feature on the hills.

A second-generation Yorkshire farmer, Bo is on a mission to regenerate heather moorland through stewardship schemes and grow both a herd of cattle and flock of sheep that can not only thrive in the conditions but also contribute to its sustainability.

“My interest is heather moorland regeneration. There’s nothing better than looking across moorland in July and seeing the purple heather but you’ve also got to look at it from a farming point of view to create a habitat so that sheep and cattle can graze it. It’s also extremely important that wildlife can survive and thrive.”

Bo has carried out his most recent moorland regeneration work near Halifax on his father’s land at Lower Green Edge Farm and on the Castle Carr Estate that has 4,000 acres of heather moorland. He also rents 1,100 acres of Yorkshire Water land at Ovenden Moor that includes 600 acres of moorland and 500 acres of rough grazing. Since focussing on moorland regeneration through stewardship schemes he’s also taken on 7,000 acres of moorland in Derbyshire. Livestock is grazed in each of these areas.

“We started with Beef Shorthorns but found they weren’t really hardy enough for our needs so we went with the Luings. I went to Castle Douglas and bought 14 Luing bulling heifers. We’ve had four calvings off them and currently have around 40 head. The original idea was to build their numbers up even more and ideally we’d like the whole herd to be Luing but their price at market has gone up so we ended up buying 75 Highland heifers.”

The herd now runs to around 300 and, interestingly, one of the UK’s rarest breeds has come on board.

“We had advice that we should use a Whitebred Shorthorn bull on the Highland heifers which produces something like a Blue Grey. We bought some crossbreds from the chap who had mentioned this to Mary (Bo’s partner) and we were impressed. The calves came out almost standing up and were suckling straight away. There is a saying that there are more giant pandas registered than there are pedigree Whitebred Shorthorns.”

Bo and Mary’s sheep flock includes 200 Lonks for the moors; and 550 Cheviot X Texels that are then crossed again to the Texel resulting in half to three-quarter bred Texels.

Having worked as an estates surveyor for the Environment Agency for eight years Bo has seen how working with stewardship schemes can not only benefit the landscape and wildlife but also work well for the farmer if grazing is conducted correctly.

“It all depends what the problem is. It can be under grazing or over grazing. If it’s over grazing you take animals off that area and give the heather chance to recover. In recent times we have spread heather seed, carried out grip blocking and started the regeneration of blanket bog with fragments of sphagnum moss. We’re also using cutting and collection of heather brash in sensitive places where burning on blanket bog and deep peat is discouraged.

“As well as managing the land by spreading seed, burning and draining ditches you need to get the stocking levels spot on and with the right animals. Most sheep are selective in their grazing. They don’t want the rough tussocks that the cattle are prepared to eat. The Lonks are however better than most.”

A common myth when the general public sees heather moorland being burned is that the countryside is not under control. Nothing could be further from the truth as Bo explains: “The following year after a burn the new shoots start coming and within five years there is a good cover of heather again. It’s all about managing it correctly and that helps maintain what the public sees as a colourful, beautiful landscape.”