A group of farmers recently attended a farm walk to find out more about herbal leys.

The Farmer Network teamed up with Becky Swinn from Innovative Farmers and Dr Lisa Norton from the UK Centre for Ecology and Hydrology for a walk hosted by Richard and Alison Park at Low Sizergh Farm near Kendal.

The main topic for discussion was the management of diverse swards and herbal leys.

Herbal leys are temporary grasslands made up of legume, herb and grass species that easily fit into mixed farming and arable rotations. The wide variety of plant species in herbal leys increase soil fertility, as legumes add nitrogen to the soil.

They improve soil structure with their deeper rooting depths and are important food sources for pollinators. They also capture more carbon, transferring it deeper into the soil as organic matter.

Importantly, there are payments available within the Sustainable Farming Incentive and Countryside Stewardship options to establish and maintain herbal leys. The Farmer Network is keeping members informed of all support payment opportunities within their weekly E News.

During the farm walk the key learning points from the discussions included the following:

  • Herbal leys are best managed by rotational grazing;
  • It is essential to monitor the sward to understand how management affects the mixture and how the mixture then affects production;
  • Each field and the mycorrhizal bacteria and fungi balance of the soil will suit some plants over others. It is a learning curve on the farm;
  • Don't put too much area down to herbal leys in one season if they are being grazed. They be managed carefully in the first couple of years with no grazing in wet conditions.

Farmer Network project manager Kate Gascoyne, who organised the session, said: “We’re grateful to the Park family, the Innovative Farmers team, our researchers and the farmers that attended for creating an enjoyable and really informative event.

"The Farmer Network is always keen to support farmers sharing information with and learning from other farmers.”