A PIONEERING project is being launched to help Dartmoor hill farmers breathe new life into a centuries-old, environmentally sustainable method of improving their soil health and productivity.

Spreading lime on the land has long been the traditional way for Dartmoor farmers to balance their naturally acidic moorland soils, improving crop health and yields.

But as modern farm machinery and spreading equipment has become ever-larger, many smaller Dartmoor farms have moved away from applying lime due to the physical constraints of narrow field access and the challenge of spreading on steeper slopes.

Now the Dartmoor Hill Farm Project has teamed up with Ashburton-based quarry business, Glendinning, to make it easier for farmers to get information, soil testing expertise and access to newly-sourced, smaller equipment capable of delivering to and spreading on remote moorland sites.

The Dartmoor Hill Farm Project (DHFP) was set up in 2003 to try to ensure a viable future for Dartmoor farmers and has supported farmers to establish and run a wide range of projects to add value to their businesses and to increase vocational skills. It is funded by a number of partners including the Prince’s Countryside Fund and The Duchy of Cornwall.

The DHFP arranged for more than 20 farmers to visit Glendinning’s Linhay Hill Quarry to discover more about the processes involved in producing agricultural lime and other aggregate products and to view the new spreading equipment which should enable most locations to be serviced.

Russell Ashford, chairman of the Hill Farm Project, said: “Farming on Dartmoor has its challenges so the opportunity to work with a local company to find pragmatic solutions is welcomed. Our soils tend to have a natural acidity so using lime to balance the pH is essential in unlocking its potential. The ability to combine sensibly-sized equipment with an attractive package is warmly welcomed by the project and its contributors.”

Barry Wilson, Glendinning MD, said: “Supplying agricultural lime is of historic significance as the company’s origins but also as an ongoing commitment by Glendinning to support farmers throughout the Westcountry.

“We are delighted to be able to work with the Dartmoor Hill Farm Project to help develop a solution to the issues of access and spreading which have been affecting farmers who wish to use lime to improve their soils.

“Both Glendinning and our contractor have invested in delivery and spreading equipment which will meet local needs. As part of the project we are also offering to carry out soil tests for pH levels for DHFP contributor farms.”

John Dracup, of Broadaford Farm, Widecombe, was one of those who took the opportunity to visit Glendinning’s.

He said: “I am pleased to be associated with this innovative, progressive way of working between the Hill Farm Project and Glendinning. Lime plays a large part in maintaining farm efficiency and enhancing our productivity, whilst maintaining our biodiversity and ecology. Through working with this project, we are achieving the combination of securing a locally-produced product of the right quality, delivered and spread with appropriate equipment which respects the challenges of farming on Dartmoor.”

David Attwell, Hill Farm Project Training Coordinator, said: "The initiative with Glendinning was identified as an opportunity by a number of farmers on Dartmoor. In particular, access constraints and the size of modern machinery has resulted in a reduction in lime application, impacting on soil condition. The availability of bespoke machinery suited to our landscape is to be welcomed along with an attractive package for contributing farms. We are very grateful to Glendinning for the opportunity to develop a partnership approach and look forward to working together.”

In 1958 Ernest and Jack Glendinning bought Linhay Hill limestone quarry, near Ashburton, and in their first year 35,000 tons of ground limestone was produced, sold and spread on South West farms.

More than half-a-century later Glendinning Group has grown to become part of the fabric of the Westcountry’s infrastructure and economy, supplying a range of limestone aggregates, ready-mix concretes, asphalt, blocks, paving, sand and lime for new roads and highways maintenance, schools, homes and hospitals and for agricultural use across Devon and Cornwall.

It employs 240 people, creates significant additional employment indirectly and contributes some £6 million a year to the Devon and Dartmoor local economy from the procurement of goods and services. Glendinning’s c. £32m turnover alone accounts for 5.6% of total annual turnover for all businesses in the Dartmoor National Park.

Glendinning is still planning ahead, with proposals for an extension to access additional reserves at Linhay Hill and secure the life of the company, jobs and economic benefits it creates for a further 60 years or more.