Regenerative grazing in the Lake District

We speak to Cumbrian farmers, and CLA members, Claire and Sam Beaumont about their regenerative approach to livestock farming in the uplands
cows with members - lake district
Claire & Sam with their herd of Shorthorns

Sam and Claire Beaumont farm in partnership with Claire’s parents at the 385-acre Gowbarrow Hall Farm in the Lake District on the shores of Ullswater bordering Watermillock. The third-generation livestock farmers are committed to maintaining and enriching the local landscape and biodiversity.

Gowbarrow was intensively farmed with fertilisers and herbicides before the couple arrived. Through trial and error, they have transformed the former sheep farm by adopting a hybrid of regenerative grazing and rewilding while retaining it as a working farm that produces nutrient-dense food. They currently have 50 Shorthorn cattle, five Kune Kune pigs and five Fell ponies.

Family history

Sam, who qualified as a mechanical engineer, first met Claire, who studied electrical engineering, at their erstwhile employer’s induction weekend in 2007. The couple worked there for 10 years before swapping their offices for the farm in 2017.

While not from a farming background, Sam has always been interested in farming, having spent school holidays at his great-uncle’s farm in Derbyshire, which his father later inherited to farm with some sheep.

Claire’s grandfather bought Gowbarrow Hall Farm in the 1970s and farmed it with mainly Swaledale sheep until 1998. After his death, Claire’s mother, Anne Lloyd, took over the running of the farm, which was used mainly for sheep and cattle grazing. As a trained solicitor, Anne managed it as a grass let.

Farming revised

Once settled on the farm, Sam and Claire started to re-stock it with Swaledale sheep. They intended to cross-breed with Blue-faced Leicesters but quickly established that it was not economically viable. They started exploring alternatives and even considered rewilding the area.

Sam says: “The problem was that while rewilding is fantastic and important in terms of biodiversity and nature recovery, I wondered what we were going to eat. We wanted to rewild and farm at the same time to achieve a sensible balance between the two.”

After coming across the Pasture For Life Association, the couple realised that the outlook mirrored their own approach to farming. Claire says: “We came across Primal Meats and Wilderculture CIC founder Caroline Grindrod. We did a three-day course on Wilderculture, which covered Caroline’s approach to integrate ecological restoration and food production in upland areas.”

Caroline had successfully applied this approach on Carna, a Scottish island, and was looking for a flagship upland farm to showcase her Wilderculture approach. Given Sam and Claire’s enthusiasm, Wilder Gowbarrow (a joint venture with Wildreculture CIC), was created.

Claire adds: “Initially, my own family and local farmers were a little fatalistic about our new approach, saying that we can’t farm without fertilisers, we can’t out-winter and that we can’t finish beef cattle at Gowbarrow. We were disruptive to the traditional mindset and sold off all our sheep, replacing them with Shorthorn cattle.”

Gowbarrow Hall Farm - Lake District

A new approach

Visiting various farms, Sam and Claire cherry-picked the best practices that would suit Gowbarrow Hall. They considered their own context, including the physical topography, the farm’s social history, their own skills and assets such as buildings and machinery.

Rob Dixon from Wild Lakeland completed a broad habitat survey and categorised different fields according to vegetation, which was useful in determining a grazing plan for their Shorthorns as well as managing the different habitats to enrich the natural biodiversity.

Claire says: “We have a range of habitats, including species-rich grasslands on the lower side, meadows, heather moorland, ancient wood pasture and a commercial forest."

Our aspiration was to have a herd that was appropriate to the size and habitats of our various fields

“Our aim is to build a herd that is right for how we farm. Our Shorthorn bull is from pre-war genetics, and we have a strict culling regime to refine our herd to make it more suitable for upland regenerative farming.

“Since introducing cattle, our vet bills are lower, and we rarely use insecticide and antibiotics. Instead of using fertiliser, we deploy adaptive multi-paddock grazing, with a full rotation every 30-35 days during spring and more than 90 day rest periods later in the growing season. Rest periods need to be flexible to maximise the grass growing.”

Through regular blood samples, they monitor for mineral deficiencies as the grazing material is not yet species rich and also inspect faecal matter to assess the parasite burden. Interventions to address any issues include feeding their cattle with seaweed to address iodine deficiency and bolus to supplement selenium. Parasite counts are very low as the quality of the grass is much better than before.

Longer term, the couple want to enrich the grazing material by seeding the post-grazed soil patches with red clover, chicory, plantain and other herbs to enrich the livestock’s diet. In their upper winter block, they have also planted some willow.

Instead of selling the cattle on at auction, they are locally slaughtered and butchered with Sam and Claire boxing up and delivering cuts to their customers. By doing this, their return per head of cattle is well over double than if they had sold it on.

Future plans

The couple are passionate about training and educating others on the Wilderculture approach, and they are currently repurposing a barn into a training centre, part-funded through the Farming in Protected Landscapes programme.

Sam and Claire are working with Caroline to develop a year-long Wilderculture course, which they hope to start delivering before the end of 2023. Sam says: “The idea is that the course is farm community-focused, as the only way we can make changes in farming is through positive cultural change.” The aim of the course would be to collaborate with others, and they invite anyone wanting to use the centre to educate on any aspect of land management.

About the negative views on rewilding, Claire reflects: “I think that it is just a more regenerative way of farming. In England, there is no fully rewilded farm – it’s all managed.” Sam adds: “Nearly all rewilding projects are producing food, so that is farming, and cows are an integral part of it.”