COP26 case studies - Crosby Cleland, County Down

8th October 2021

As the global politicians and state leaders prepare to travel to Glasgow for this November’s COP26 conference discussing the worldwide climate emergency, NSA is working hard to raise awareness of the positive role UK sheep farming can have on the issue.

As a finger of blame may once again be pointed to livestock production as a key contributor to climate change NSA is explaining that the UK’s methods of sheep production are in complete contrast to some methods of intensive farming found in other parts of the world. The Association is therefore aiming to improve understanding amongst the wider public of the importance of the UK sheep sector and demonstrating that a more holistic approach to sustainability is required if we are to meet environment, economic and social goals.

NSA is encouraging policymakers not to think of climate change or nature recovery in isolation, but to consider these things in tandem with the protection of natural resources, heritage, rural economies, the health and wellbeing of people, and sustainable and local food production and consumption.  

We spoke to five NSA members from across the UK who explain how their farming systems work with the environment and communities around them.

Crosby Cleland, Ballynahinch, County Down

“For many Northern Ireland sheep farmers working with smaller acreages, efficiency is key. But that does not mean that production cannot work in harmony with the environment also.

“We run 850 ewes ( a mix of Lleyn, Aberfield, Primera and New Zealand Suffolks) on our 170 acre (70 hectares) farm meaning stocking rates are high. To accommodate this we rotationally graze two acre paddocks and use multi species swards to provide the sheep with an efficient forage in front of them. We have been experimenting with adding chicory and plantain to the mixes to find a ley that will best suit the sheep and further improve the soil. We regularly reseed but no longer plough in an attempt to benefit soil organic matter.

“We previously also ran a suckler herd and reared young bulls for beef but we have found the land and our grass best suited to sheep. We are confident our grassland farm is dealing with carbon emissions as effectively as it can. We do an annual carbon audit and practices such as the regular reseeding and rotationally grazing multi species swards are helping to disperse carbon efficiently whilst still maximising our sheep production per acre.

“The farm is part of DAERA’s Environmental farming scheme (EFS) which has led us to plant a lot more hedgerows on farm that has significantly helped the farmland bird populations. We currently have four RSPB Red Listed species on farm including the Skylark, Linnet and Red Bunting.

“Our involvement with environmental schemes and agricultural trials has allowed us to collect significant data over the past few decades meaning our stock performance, health and welfare has been carefully monitored and improved on wherever possible to improve efficiency. For this reason I consider technology key to sustainable sheep production. Data has helped us adjust our farming practices to minimise our environmental impact and improve our flock year on year. It is part of our whole production cycle from only using EBV scored rams to recording weights of lambs from birth.

“Technology has also improved food security. Traceability is paramount. Ear tags have been widely used for over 20 years and this is a major point should be shared more with the customer to improve their trust in the supply chain. There is a rigorous process involved to get the product from the farm to the shelf and no stone is left unturned.”

“Farmers must be willing to share this information with the public and to show them sheep farming has a significant role to play in reducing not creating emissions, this cannot be said for many other industries. A major part of this is grass! It is one of the most valuable assets to farms and a key element to not only food production but also significant to the countryside aesthetic. It is one part of the environment that many take for granted and it should be appreciated much more.”