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David and Wilma Finlay: Dumfries & Galloway – The Agriculture, Biodiversity and Climate Change Network

30 March 2024

This article originally appeared on the Farming For A Better Climate website

Farm Type: Upland organic dairy, beef and sheep
Total area farmed: 340ha (including 40ha woodland)
Total cropping area: none
Total number of livestock: 125 dairy, 10 beef, 280 sheep


What climate/environmental actions have been undertaken on the farm?

We have carried out a range of environmental actions on the farm.

A key area for us was the heath of our soils, making sure they were up to the job in the face of changing climate.  We have actively moved away from ploughing or deep cultivation across the farm.

We have looked to support pollinators and general insect diversity across the farm.  We are also nearly anthelmintic and antibiotic free, meaning less chemicals will be reaching our pastures which is a bonus for invertebrates and other life in our soils. We have also introduced a number of ponds, put in some wader scrapes and carried out tree planting.

We have actively looked at what renewables could work for us here on the farm and have installed an anaerobic digester and solar panels to generate more of our energy requirements from renewables.

What impact have these activities had?

Healthy soils are sequestering carbon and giving good pasture yields, even in a drought. Our diverse pastures are providing all our vitamin and mineral requirements, alongside increased insect diversity which is controlling pest species and helping carbon and nutrient cycles. Healthy animals are giving good performance figures, extended productive lives and low morbidity/mortality. We’ve seen dramatic cost savings through taking this more holistic approach.

What was the catalyst for you taking this action?

We have been concerned about climate change and biodiversity loss and wanted to do something to support natural systems on our farm.  Public expectation has also been a driver in our decision making to do something different.

Have you completed a carbon audit & are you gathering any other data about the climate/environment impacts of your farm?

We have carried out a carbon audit and have been testing soils, including organic matter on a regular basis.  We have soils data for the past 25 years on the farm.

We have been interested to identify and document the range of plants, insects, birds and mammals found on our farm. To date, 341 species have been recorded.  Working with RSPB, birds include Yellowhammer, Barn Owl, Tree Sparrow and Skylark.  In terms of flora and fauna, Common Spotted Orchid and Sun Spurge have been recorded, alongside Red Squirrels, Red Deer and Otter.  We have plenty of insect life, including the Northern Brown Argus and Wall butterfly, plus the Blue Tailed Damselfly and Green Dock Beetle.  Reptiles including Adders and Common Lizards are found here on the farm, with Common Toads, Frogs and Newts making great use of our wildlife ponds.  A fungal survey revealed a whole host of fungi, from Birch Polypore to the delicate Pale Brittlestem mushroom.

Following those species surveys, two large areas of our farm were designated as Local Wildlife Sites.  This is a nationally recognised designation for areas of land that are especially important for wildlife.

What are your top tips/lessons learned from the experience that other farmers should consider if taking similar actions?

Nature-based farming is productive, profitable and resource-efficient. But it takes time. A lot of time.

What if anything would you do differently?

If I could have afforded it, I’d have spent more on our renewables.

What, if anything, are you planning next around climate and biodiversity?

More integrated tree planting.

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