Farming for ever

We feel lucky to live at Moss Peteral and see our role as stewards, looking after the place for those who will come after us. We aim to husband natural resources allowing the indigenous flora and fauna on the farm prosper and the land to continue to perform essential ecological functions. Rearing livestock is what we do, it takes up a lot of our time and energy but we try not to exploit or degrade the land or its associated habitats with our farming practices.

Moss Peteral straddles the country's east west watershed;
the northern portion of the farm drains into the Irthing and the
southern into the Tipalt burn and thence into the South Tyne.

The land, sandwiched between the Whin Sill, with Hardian's Wall striding along the top, and Kielder forest, is archetypal wide open moorland where the ground squelches underfoot and the sky goes on forever above.
The soil is predominantly peaty with many acres of mire.

A mire is defined quite precisely in ecological terms as an area of active peat formation - carbon dioxide is being sequestered, locked into vegetation which dies but does not decay, gradually accumulating at a rate of, maybe, 1mm per year.

We have areas of peat on the farm several meters deep, these must have been building up for several thousand years. The mires then are formed over millennia of sphagnum mosses, plants that are ombrotrophic - able to acquire all their nutrients from the air and water. The predominance of moss undoubtedly gives the farm that part of its name, but no one has been able to suggest the origin of Peteral; my theory is 'Moss', 'Peat' (dead moss) 'er'… and bugger 'all' else!
The straight lines of Moss Peteral's boundaries suggest an enclosure farm, however historical records identify a medieval steading, a shieling (summer farm) called Herd Law on a droving route and extensive areas of rigg-and-furrow, all evidence of earlier farming and stock-husbandry activities.

The current house, despite its appearance, dates from the early 1800's and abuts an impressive courtyard of traditional buildings, similar to so many others in the area belonging, at the time of their construction, to the Earl of Carlisle.

As agricultural intensification and land improvement gained momentum in the 20th Century the Earl's tenants reseeded the in-bye and dug many kilometres of grips (open drains) on the fell land.

In the 1950s there was even a dairying enterprise here with churns carried, by horse and cart, down to the railway through the 12 gates on the road to Longbyre! Thankfully all but two of these gates have now been replaced with cattle grids.

Conservation and Stewardship
In 1956 Moss Peteral received its first conservation badge when it was included in the Northumberland National Park - an early recognition of landscape quality.
The most notable mire on the farm, The Wou, occupying the northernmost 300 acres now belongs to the Northumberland Wildlife Trust but grazing rights remain with Moss Peteral.
It is a Site of Special Scientific Interest (SSI) and a 'Ramsar site' denoting a wetland international importance. Furthermore, as a one of the Border Mires, The Wou is recognised as a Special Conservation Area under the European Habitats Directive.

The 21st century heralded a new era as the farm entered into a Countryside Stewardship agreement and the clock was turned back on decades of 'improvement'.
Cattle were completely removed, sheep numbers were reduced to those of the 1970s and agro-chemical inputs were restricted.
This first Stewardship Scheme aimed to protect and enhance the mire habitats, improve floral diversity in the meadows and, with funds for wall repair included, maintain an attractive 'traditional' landscape.

In 2010 a second, Higher Level Stewardship, agreement was negotiated. This time, in an effort to control some of the rougher grasses (molinia and rushes) growing around the mire, payments for re-introducing cattle grazing brought cattle back onto the farm in the summer months. The current Stewardship agreement focuses on conserving and improving a bio-diverse mosaic of wetland habitats primarily to benefit wading birds.