A beef shorthorn bull

Plans for a coastal path in Somerset could wipe out some of the oldest British Beef Shorthorn genetics in the UK, claims a local farmer.

Although Beef Shorthorns aren’t especially rare, one herd in Somerset boasts genetics that date back to early 20th-century bloodlines, and are probably the last remaining of their type.

But now the introduction of the coast path threatens their very survival, says Steve Hamilton, of Wharf Farm, near Kingston Seymour.

See also: Advice for landowners as coastal path progresses

Mr Hamilton has 36 traditional Beef Shorthorn cattle with genetics dating back to the 1940s.

The herd is involved in a 20-year breeding programme with the Rare Breed Survival Trust (RBST), aiming to preserve and distribute its genetics worldwide.

A beef shorthorn cow in a field

New coast path

But Natural England wants to put a section of the new coast path – part of the longest coastal walking route in the world – through the farm.

Mr Hamilton said this would take up 35% of the 41ha farm and involve fencing the level fields which are divided by traditional drainage ditches known as rhynes.

“It could cause us to lose our livestock and our living – and the walkers can’t even see the coast from here,” he said.

“It’s something very special that we have got here, why should protecting wild birds be more important than protecting our livestock and livelihood?”

It’s something very special that we have got here, why should protecting wild birds be more important than protecting our livestock and livelihood? Steve Hamilton, Wharf Farm

Natural England wants to route the path inland to avoid walkers disturbing nesting wild birds nearer to the coast, but Mr Hamilton insists his rare cattle should be afforded the same rights.

“The majority of walkers are fine, but one or two careless people could destroy our breeding programme and irreplaceable bloodlines.

“There are going to be 10,000 people walking through with no one to control their actions.”

The main risks to the herd are neospora-related abortion, dog worrying, and the potential transmission of bovine tuberculosis.

“The farm is the only clear farm in the area and has been TB free for the past 20 years,” said Mr Hamilton. With his small herd size an outbreak could be devastating.

Traditional methods

The farm operates using traditional methods, is in the Higher Level Stewardship Scheme and works with the Avon Wildlife Trust on multiple projects.

“This farm is achieving a balance for livestock and wildlife,” said Richard Broad at the RBST.

“This balance has taken years to create, but could be quickly destroyed. It would then take years or may even be impossible to reinstate.”

Mr Hamilton is organising a meeting with Natural England, the RBST and the NFU in early October, and hopes to secure a practical outcome.

A Natural England spokesman said the government agency was aware of the situation.

“We are in discussions with the landowner and the RBST to find a route that protects both the interests of the landowner and the rare breeds, as well as the interests of the local wildlife.”

But Tom Beeston, chief executive of the RBST, said he was extremely concerned about developments around Wharf Farm.

Farms need just as much protection as wildlife, and special consideration should be taken in this instance with regards to the farm’s breeding line Matt Uren, NFU

It could affect both the amazing historical meadow habitats, and put at risk one of our rarest and most traditional populations of Shorthorns.

“The risk is 100%, without a full understanding of the importance of the habitat and the animals, we could lose all the animals and a good proportion of the habitat.”

NFU adviser Matt Uren said: “Farms need just as much protection as wildlife, and special consideration should be taken in this instance with regards to the farm’s breeding lines.”