£14kg, down from £15.50
From Jacob’s Ladder
Montague Farm is comprised of 300 acres of both hill and marsh land, near Hankham on the western edge of the Pevensey levels in East Sussex. The farm has been under the organic management of Martin Hole (that’s him in the photo) for 9 years, though his family have owned the site since ’42. Martin’s land runs south from Pevensey castle across the extensive, permanent grazing land of the levels which have been recognised as an Area of Specific Scientific Interest and are internationally acclaimed for their natural and geological importance.
The wetland’s existence derives from its enclosure by the chalk of the South Downs to the South West, the sand of the Weald foothills to the North, the outcrops of Wadhurst and Weald clay to the East and West, and its exposure to the sea due South. In Roman times, the Pevensey Levels were a wide, open bay which flooded each high tide, leaving upper ground visible as a series of small islands. The local word eyot, meaning island, was often abbreviated to ‘ey’ as an ending to local place names, Pevensey included, whose hill tops surpassed the water level.
In the 800s, the land still submerged regularly, lending it to salt farming which continued around the area for over 300 years. But it was in the Middle Ages that the rising shingle ridge along what now represents the coast line, grew to a level where the tides were held back, allowing ditches to be engineered and the marshes to be irrigated for use as the rich, arable land they still represent today. Rare plant and insect species thrive there, as well as certain varieties of marsh birds which use the habitat for a breeding ground. In keeping with a tradition that dates back to the 1700s, Martin rears Romney sheep at Montague Farm, in a thousand-strong flock.
His sheep are kept outside all year round, grazing the marshes, pastures and leys, alternating with his herd of cattle. In the summer, when all areas of his grasslands are accessible, Martin divides his flock, driving the mothers and their lambs onto the higher plots to benefit from the richer blades and gain condition. The older sheep are put to forage their way through the marsh plants of the wetland flats.
At breeding time, Martin puts a third of his ewes to a pure Romney ram to continue the bloodline of his breed and the rest of his ladies are put to a Charalais tup which helps to breed a better, rounder carcass shape into future generations of the flock. In both cases, Martin follows the old fashioned local adage to time the moment of his breeding and lambing – In with a bang (tups go in on Guy Fawkes night) and out with a fool (lambs are born on April 1st).