Future of rare land at steak

Farmer Ron Colledge at White Lea Farm.
Farmer Ron Colledge at White Lea Farm.
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A MEATY feast is allowing diners a rare chance to save a landscape from the chop.

Food enthusiasts are backing the survival of a unique site each time they order East Durham Grassland Beef.

The cattle graze on the award-winning Durham Heritage Coast and help to conserve and expand the unique limestone ecosystems.

Up to 200 hectares of land between Hawthorn Dene and Blackhall, along with pockets slightly inland, could eventually be returned to original grassland through the programme.

Jim Cokill, is director at Durham Wildlife Trust and member of the Durham Coastal Grazing Group, which is managing the project.

He said: “We’re all enthusiastic about the potential of this special beef and pleased at the interest from so many of the region’s chefs who have been quick to appreciate what we’re doing.”

Durham’s grasslands are classed as ecologically important, with many areas designated at an international level for their biodiversity value.

The project protects and promotes the growth of delicate habitats, with the English longhorn and Highland cattle it farms able to live outside during winter, while continental breeds used by most UK farmers have to be fed inside.

Jim added: “Historically farmers in County Durham have bred cows for beef which were so valued that the ‘Durham Ox’ became world famous.

“It was this livestock grazing, trampling and fertilization that helped create the very grasslands we are now trying to protect and expand.

“It’s appropriate then that traditional cattle are once again playing a key role within this internationally significant coastal habitat.”

Meat from the first beef produced by the scheme comes from cows raised and grazed at White Lea Farm in Easington Colliery, where they are farmed by Ron Colledge, and Quarrington Hill, where they were farmed by Ken Ibbotson.

It is being produced on a small scale but will be gradually expanded.