Neil Harley. Wiltshire
Neil is the third generation of the Harley family to farm cattle on Salisbury Plain. He is grazing the incredibly important chalk downland with Aberdeen Angus cattle while based between this small family farm perched on the edge of the expansive ‘ranges’ and Cheswell Grange in Shropshire, which he farms with his wife.
His focus has been on conservation of the rare habitat whilst producing a truly exceptional quality of beef to the highest animal welfare standards in the most natural way possible. Maintaining and improving biodiversity is a real passion which underpins all the decisions made on the farm. Neil is now expanding this type of habitat, creating new diverse pastures mimicking the elaborate grassland ecosystems he grew up with. He is grazing arable farms using the highly successful regenerative farming practices and conservation techniques developed on Salisbury Plain.
There are 500 Aberdeen Angus along with 30 White Park cows on the farm, all allowed to live out their natural behaviours in a herd structure with generations of cows living together. The cows live outside all year round, grazing the herb rich downs with the calves naturally weaned and not removed from the herds until they are mature and due to leave the farm. Now a rare occurrence in modern cattle farming, many of the herds have generations all living together, having stayed with their mothers and grandmothers throughout their lives.
The cattle receive no grain-based feed, consuming only this incredible native pasture throughout their lives. The cattle due to leave the farm are grazed on lush valley pastures of diverse swards, building a depth of flavour into the beef which overlays the subtle minerally essence created whilst grazing on the chalk downs. You simply cannot find this flavour without the diverse, natural diet that these cows live on.
The land the cattle are farmed on is largely ancient chalk downland, much of which has not been ploughed since the Roman Empire governed Britain. Set in the same landscape as Stone Henge, it is a truly unique place.
Over the centuries, many species of herb, flower and grass have developed into a highly complex ecosystem — once widespread across Northern Europe but since the advent of chemical farming, it's now incredibly rare. Salisbury Plain is the last substantial area of this habitat left in the North Western Europe and a haven for rare wildlife such as the Sainfoin Bee (whose only UK range remains on this small patch of Southern England) as well as being home to the reintroduced Great Bustard.
The farm has been organic for over 20 years, when the last remaining arable ground was reverted to the chalk downland on which many rare chalkland species now flourish. Much of the ground the cattle roam on has never seen any chemical inputs at all. The farm is also PFLA and regeneratively certified.