A new type of partnership

A new partnership shows why traditional grazing on some of our nature reserves is good for both farmer and flowers.

Sophie Arlott is not an easy lady to get hold of. “Try me in the afternoons” she told me when we first met. “I normally get a few minutes after 4pm but then I’m back out again”. I rang. Twice. Over two days. No joy. Clearly Sophie is a lady on a mission.

Sophie began farming in Lincolnshire in 1999. And that mission was to rear and breed the best lamb possible. Twenty years on and her Lavinton Lamb has won more awards than you can shake a stick at and supplies many of the finest restaurants in the land - from the well-loved Jews House in the heart of Lincoln, to the three Michelin starred Waterside Inn in Bray.

Careful stockmanship and high welfare are hugely important element of that mission and Sophie ensures they have a high quality of life. But there’s another secret ingredient that ensures a fabulous flavour and that’s our grass! Well, grass, herbs and a range of wild flowers.

Lavinton Lambs

Grazing is an essential part of the management of our nature reserves. The best thing we can do for some of our precious habitats is let livestock – cows, sheep and ponies – eat it! It’s all carefully controlled. The right animals, in the right numbers, at the right time. This isn’t destructive, its part of a natural process. Thousands of years ago, it would have been done by wild animals, creating a patchwork of habitats with open areas, patches of woodland and pockets of scrub.

Livestock grazing plays a key role in maintaining species-rich habitats by controlling more aggressive species which would otherwise dominate these areas and by preventing scrub encroachment. The selection of certain plant species in preference to others by different livestock is also an important factor determining the structure and composition of the vegetation of various habitats. Livestock grazing removes plant material more gradually than cutting or burning and gives mobile species a better chance to move to other areas within the habitat.

Grazing also supports other farming activities such as hay-making, providing the perfect conditions for valuable meadow habitats, allowing slower-growing grasses to flower and

seed. And by grazing these hay meadows after they have been cut, competitive coarse grasses are controlled and the trampling that occurs creates gaps in the vegetation which allow seedlings to grow. This ensures that a variety of species can continue to flourish.

Porter's Lodge Meadow

Barrie Wilkinson

And that is why we are so pleased to have Sophie, and her sheep, on board as part of our team of natural lawn mowers. And Sophie is so delighted with the results she has even started to take some of the Trust’s own rare breed Hebridean Sheep to market through the Lavinton Lamb business.

Eating a more traditional diet with a high diversity of grasses and wildflowers. As Sophie says, “you don’t get this with mass produced lamb and that ensures a fabulous flavour.”

In 2019, Sophie’s lamb was declared the best meat in Britain at the Great British Food Awards. Nathan Outlaw, two-star Michelin chef, who judged the meat category described it as "faultless" and we are delighted to announce that you can now buy direct from Sophie’s website. Options include Gourmet Lamb Burgers, Moroccan Sausages and Lamb boxes of carious sizes and cuts of meat. Simply head to www.lavinton.com/shop and enjoy, knowing that every mouthful helps to keep our reserves amazing places for wildlife!