National Trust to sell beef raised on Castle Ward estate

Alan and Sophie Laughlin with their Dexter cattle at Castle Ward.
Alan and Sophie Laughlin with their Dexter cattle at Castle Ward.

A Co Down farmer has said a new ‘field-to-fork’ partnership with the National Trust has helped him “diversify” ahead of Brexit.

Alan Laughlin is a tenant farmer for the National Trust at a plot of land near Strangford known as Tanratty, which is part of the Castle Ward estate and a protected Area of Special Scientific Interest due its species-rich grassland.

Mr Laughlin has been grazing Dexter cattle on the land, which the National Trust says helps produce both a high-quality beef product and looks after the environment.

The National Trust has been running field-to-fork projects elsewhere in the UK for some time, but the Castle Ward project is the first of its kind on this side of the Irish Sea.

The trust will now sell Dexter beef products directly at Castle Ward, starting with a barbecue this Saturday to kick things off.

Mr Laughlin told the News Letter it has been a good move for him amid the uncertainty associated with Brexit.

“It’s a lease agreement with Castle Ward, with the trust who obviously own it,” he said.

“It started off with just a simple lease but it’s developed now into this ‘field-to-fork’ idea with selling the meat. It’s a well developed thing in England already but this is the first time it’s been done here.

“It’s a bit like my way of diversifying. When it comes to farming, especially around beef farming, prices are going down and down. You have the uncertainty around Brexit and EU matters, the Brazilian beef coming in – you know, this is my shot at diversification.”

He continued: “Obviously this is a premium product going out through a respected organisation like the National Trust.

“You can’t get any lower food miles than this.

“It stands to reason – they have the land, they have the footfall, so why not offer something that is being developed on their land, on their estate.

“Only 3% of the country is wildflower meadow and the National Trust is very, very keen on these meadows.”

Mr Laughlin added: “This has to be grazed off to give the new seeds a chance the next spring. It’s been three years I’ve been grazing it now and it’s thriving.”

Kevin Duncan, National Trust farmer advisor, explained: “Over recent years Alan’s rare breed of Dexter cattle have been transforming the grasslands.

“Through the management practice called conservation grazing, these cattle have been able to create the essential conditions to promote a wild array of wildflowers, which in turn provide nectar sources for our native pollinators and attract insects which then act as a food source for farmland birds.”

He added: “Alan’s Dexter cattle are a traditional hardy breed of cattle which are much smaller than the continental cattle which are found on most farms in Northern Ireland today.

“They are much smaller and lighter and therefore have a lower impact on the ground and are more suited to out wintering which aids with the conservation management of the site.”

This Saturday, the National Trust will be serving up dexter beef burgers at a barbecue to launch the field-to-fork project, with festivities including a quiz and competition.