This photo shows a dirt track bordered by bracken and a low dry stone wall on the right. The track is filled with at least two hundred sheep, who are tightly packed and facing away from the camera moving down the road. The sheep nearest the camera have long tails, and all of them have a blue mark on their back. In the foreground we can see two black and white sheepdogs, who are pacing behind the sheep and focused on the flock. The sheep are passing a large mature tree on the right, which has reddish-brown autumn leaves. We can see more trees in the distance, some coniferous and some with their leaves turning brown.


A place of belonging where nature feels right and welcoming.

Cynefin is also the Welsh word used for a “Heft”. Hefting is a traditional shepherding method of managing flocks on large areas of hill with communal grazing. Initially, sheep had to be kept in an unfenced area of land by constant shepherding. Over time this has become learned behavior, passed from ewe to lamb over succeeding generations.

Lambs graze with their mothers on the “heaf ” belonging to their farm instilling a lifelong knowledge of where optimal grazing and shelter can be found throughout the year. Evidence suggests that hefting can increase biodiversity compared to keeping sheep in fields. It means sheep have an improved knowledge of the grazed area, showing seasonal preferences for grazing different plant communities.

The photo shows a group of hefted sheep that we’re bringing down to the farm to give some preventative medical treatment.

Hill Farming in the South Wales Valleys

This picture tells a story; one of culture, heritage and tradition.

Hill farming in South Wales is a part of that history and has always had a deep connection with the community.  Although the coal mining industry has long gone, and the landscape has changed; the farming community remains the same. A constant, unwavering custodian of the landscape.  Food producer, guardian of the land and some of the most precious natural resources.

Traditional farming methods will be forever intertwined into our farming systems and way of life because they have to be. These traditional methods include hefting and shepherding livestock as well as lambing outdoors and keeping a purebred flock with genetics suited to and formed by the farm. Our ewe genetics date back over 300 years with not a single female line bought in. The South Wales Mountain ewe is indigenous to the South Wales Valleys and very much part of our heritage.

The nature of the land restricts the ways in which we can farm and what sort of livestock or crops can be produced. Nearly 80% of the land in Wales is classed as a ‘Less Favoured Area’ meaning it’s not suitable for growing crops, especially crops that require a combine harvester, fruits, and vegetables. Being a hill farmer means the way we farm is governed by the weather, the type of land and its ability to grow grass. The breeds of livestock we keep are suited to the farm and can withstand harsh weather conditions and thrive through grazing poorer quality grass. 

This photo shows a black cow and calf. They are standing facing to the right, with their heads turned to look straight at the person behind the camera. The calf is about half the size of the cow, and looks more fuzzy. The pair are stood on some scrubby green grass, and in the background is a dramatic glacial valley with yellow and brown plant cover and veins of exposed rock. Above the hill behind them we can see clear blue sky.
This photo shows a bank of land sloping upward to the right, covered with bluebells. In the background we can see more rugged hillside, some covered with trees and some exposed. The sky is blue with some wispy white clouds.


A connection with the land and with home, a feeling of belonging to somewhere.

The language of the soul, the call from the inner self. Half forgotten fraction remembered. It speaks from the rocks, from the earth, from the trees and in the waves. It’s always there.

We’re part of the land, the earth and the trees. I can’t imagine myself not living here and farming here. You’ve been brought up with it since you were children, your father did it, your grandfather did it, your great grandfather did it. It’s part of who I am. Even though it is a Welsh phrase, I feel a lot of farmers in the UK would recognize this feeling.

This photo was taken on a bank that we don’t graze, in late May, so the bluebells are just coming to the end of their flowering period. This piece of land doesn’t get cut, it just manages itself.

Protecting tradition and embracing modern technology

I took this picture on the long walk home for the cows annual TB test. It gave me time to reflect on the future of hill farming in Wales. Our farming methods are a mixture of old and new; through the use of traditional farming techniques founded centuries before and through the use of modern technology, ideas and science. 

For farms to survive they must be sustainable. What’s important for sustainability is that the cows are managed in an efficient way- and to me, efficiency means using our abundant natural resources, namely grass and rainwater.

I’m planning to invest in ‘No Fence’ GPS collars for the cows. The project aim will be to improve cow health and welfare, look at peat restoration, reduce fire risk and enhance habitat and biodiversity on the hill. This is a good example of using modern technology to improve business performance with the environment at the heart of the project. 

This photo shows a line of black cows walking away from the person taking the photo. The cows are walking through thick green grasses with a fence on their right. Beyond the fence is a row of conifers. In front of the cows is a white wind turbine. The sky is filled with white and grey clouds, with glimpses of blue visible between them.
This photo was taken quite low to the ground, which is covered by lush, dark green grasses and white clover. In the background we can see more rugged hills, and the sky contains voluminous white clouds with patches of blue.

Farming with Nature

A nature based solution to climate change.

This is some of our permanent pasture; located at 1850ft above sea level, it is some of the highest ground on the farm and also some of the most species rich. This acid grassland with peat soils is home to a diverse range of plant life, and is happy and healthy with its “low input life”.

Peat bogs play a crucial role in the carbon cycle. Peat is essentially wet decomposed organic matter, like trees and plants, which make this dark black carbon rich soil that acts like a giant sponge, holding on to water. Cutting and burning peat releases that stored carbon, so we must protect these habitats and prevent them from drying out.

Even if there’s a drought, the peat soil still holds onto water, so we still have some grass to keep us going. It seems it’s only recently that people have realized just how important peat bogs are, and I’m proud to be the custodian of this one.

All photos on this page are © Katie Davies

You can find more of Katie’s photos and writing on Instagram.