Balancing act

Butchers in the north west of England are reaping the rewards of selling a local brand of beef.

The scheme is part of a five-year project, launched in the Yorkshire Dales National Park, to introduce native breeds of cattle back to the park in a bid to restore wildlife habitats.

The Limestone Country project has re-introduced mixed farming methods in the conservation area because dominant sheep grazing in the past has caused damage. It is hoped by using hardy, upland cattle breeds in these areas, wildlife will flourish once more.

Local butcher, Garth Steadman, of Steadman's in Sedbergh, Cumbria, is among the independent retailers stocking the new brand. He and others work with 17 farmers involved in the scheme who supply beef from breeds such as Welsh Black, Galloway, Blue Grey, Luing and Highland.

The Limestone project is jointly managed by English Nature and the Yorkshire Dales National Park Authority, with input from a number of other organisations.

The project has a 1.72m budget, of which 550,000 is from the EU's LIFE (nature) fund. The hope is that by the time funding is pulled in 2007, production will be up to 1,000 cattle a year. Currently there are 200, averaging 330kg dw.

Louise Williams, of the Limestone Country Project, said for the programme to have long term benefits and remain viable, it was vital that a sustainable market was created.

So far, with help from local food promotion body FEAST, a market has been created among retail and catering butchers.

Rebecca Roberts, of FEAST, said work with local butchers had been a success so far but said she hoped local pubs would start serving the beef on their 'special's boards' soon. In October, a Limestone Country beef burger will be launched in local pubs.

Grasssington butcher, Colin Robinson, from Skipton, who has sold the meat for nearly two years, said demand has been growing steadily.

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