TYNE Valley farmers interested in learning more about the benefits of herbal leys gathered at Nafferton Farm to listen to a Natural England expert in grasses.

Paul Muto said the aim was to build soil structures that produced better crops and aided water management.

In a seminar organised by the Tyne Rivers Trust, he said: “Here, we’re focused on the Tyne Rivers catchment, looking at water quality and getting soil quality right – one of the tools you can use is herbal leys.”

As far back as the late 19th century, one Robert Elliot was talking about the loss of minerals in soils and the need to manage this not through the use of fertilisers, but rather by building up organic content through the planting of a balanced mix of grasses and herbs.

In reference to his farm, in the Scottish borders, it became known as the Clifton Park System of farming and laying down land to grass.

While the nature of the mix had changed with the times – in the 19th century legumes were added, but by the early 20th century a simplified mix of just grass and clover was preferred – Elliot’s theory still had resonance today, said Muto.

There was no doubt that the addition of organic matter in general improved soil structure, but the research into which mixes were the most effective was ongoing.

“Are herbal leys worth it?” he said. “Are they better than simple rye grass-clover mixtures? The truth is we don’t know, so we have included herbal leys here at Nafferton to see if they make a difference.

“We do know the presence of herbs benefits livestock health, but we don’t know how much they need.”