In the north west corner of the New Forest National Park is the village of Godshill. Here, Eden Cormack and Claudia Weis have looked after 30 acres of land since 2017. Named after the tiny St Giles church opposite, the majority of the farm nestles in its own gently sloping valley. With far-reaching views to the New Forest, the farm connects to it via three footpaths, which cross the land. St Giles Farm is an Associate Farm member of the Biodynamic Land Trust.
Eden and Claudia feel fortunate to work in a landscape shaped by a 1,000 year old practice – commoning. The people working the New Forest are known as Commoners. They have the ancient right to graze their livestock on the open forest. This has created a very special environment with internationally important wildlife habitats. The domestic animals roam freely expressing their natural behaviours over a large area, among them the iconic New Forest ponies.
When Eden and Claudia took on the farm, the land was all undulating grassland with very little infrastructure. Fortunately, no intensive farming had taken place and no chemicals had been sprayed. Small pockets of species-rich pasture remained. They took the time to get to know the land through the seasons, observing the native flora and fauna. In doing so, they discovered just how many different soil types are present, and how surprisingly wet it gets in winter. This is when temporary aquifers bubble up from under the clay.
A balanced farm
It was clear to them from the beginning that they wanted to create a balanced biodynamic farm organism. This combines food production with care for the natural world and the involvement of people.
Lots of people have helped via community workdays and regular volunteer Sundays. The farm also hosts willing helpers throughout the year. Together they are enhancing the landscape by planting hedgerows and trees and building pasture fences. These allow rotation of the animals. There are 4 Shetland cattle, 3 cob horses and 3 Ouessant sheep, in addition to small numbers of geese, ducks and chickens, and bees which are largely left to themselves. They have put up deer fencing to keep the large numbers of semi-resident fallow deer at bay and built compost heaps – the list goes on.
Together with a colleague, they run a small vegetable box scheme and have established a market garden. This year, they grew heritage wheat and rye, which did exceptionally well in a very challenging growing year.