Ecologist turned farmer highlights industries crucial role in sustainable food production and habitat conservation

Four miles south of Machynlleth, nestled in the Dyfi valley and on the edges of the Cambrian mountains is Cefn Coch Farm, home to Dr Joseph Hope. The farm lies at about 200 to 250 meters above sea level and the land rises to the south and you can walk to the summit of Pumlumon without seeing a road or a house.

The farm has 40 acres of species-rich pasture and woodland, and Joe is currently buying another 50 acres at Ynyslas. A new entrant, he keeps a small growing herd of Highland cattle, currently just 12 head in total. 4 saddleback x wild boar pigs are also busy clearing bracken and brambles in order to rehabilitate it for grazing.

The Highland Cattle breed was chosen for a number of reasons. As someone new to farming Joe thinks it’s great that they’re relatively low maintenance. They happily stay out all winter and eat the grass as it comes – they do well enough on the rough stuff, so he’s not pushed towards applying fertilisers, which would decrease the conservation value of the grassland. In fact, Highlanders are one of the preferred breeds for conservation grazing, so they’re working for biodiversity.

Joe moved to Cefn Coch just over 6 years ago, leaving behind a life in Edinburgh, and a career at the Royal Botanic Gardens Edinburgh where he worked as a lichenologist.

With an appreciation of biodiversity, nature and the role livestock plays in maintaining healthy ecosystems, Joe explored the countryside around him, drawing on his expertise as an ecologist. He found a landscape rich in wildlife; the woodland down the valley being one of the best for lichens in the county.

Describing his farming system Joe says it is a low intensity model designed to let nature flourish alongside the farming. Despite initially coming from a conservation angle, production of high-quality food is also a key objective for Joe.