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Sourhope - Background

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Please note: This research Programme is no longer active


Macaulay Land Use Research Institute (MLURI)

Sourhope site 25 January 2001

(Note: some of the information on this page may be out of date)

Sourhope lies 15 miles south of Kelso at the head of the Bowmont valley, on the western slopes of Cheviot. The Station comprises the farms of Sourhope (940 ha) and Auchope (179 ha). The land rises from 213 to 605 m in altitude and the annual rainfall is 952.4 mm (10 year mean).

Earliest records of Sourhope as a farm date from the 14th century and the name is said literally to mean 'the valley of sour pastures'. Work carried out by the Hill Farming Research Organisation (HRFO) in the late 1970's identified parts of the farm as being deficient in copper and cobalt, which may explain why the farm was so named.

In 1946 the Sourhope tenancy fell vacant and the lease was granted to the East of Scotland College of Agriculture who, at the same time, acquired the tenancy of Auchope. The East College tenancy continued until 1954 when both leases were assigned to the hill Farming Research Organisation whose tenure lasted until 1987, when the newly formed Macaulay Land Use Research Institute succeeded to both tenancies.

Under HFRO management a substantial research programme to investigate and identify the principal determinants of hill sheep production was initiated. Component research into pasture growth, animal nutrition and physiology was followed by full scale field systems testing with the establishment of projects on Hairney Law and Auchope hefts: The physical and financial changes in hill sheep productivity achievable on a self-financing basis by the provision of enhanced nutrition through pasture were measured. Studies on a similar scale designed to measure the effect of immediate pasture improvement and winter housing, with the higher capital expenditure associated with such a system, were carried out in parallel.

The Station's research programme during this period also developed techniques of pasture improvement by grazing control coupled with lime and fertiliser application followed by reclamation and reseeding.

Substantial research effort was directed towards the detection of cobalt and copper deficiencies in sown swards and natural grazings along with husbandry measures to correct these.

Soils are developed on locally derived drift from andesitic lavas of Old Red Sandstone Age. Acid brown forest soils characterise the lower slopes while more acid peaty podzols and peaty gleys occur at higher elevations with small areas of deep peat on hill summits. Stony skeletal soils are found on steep slopes.

Some 30% of the 982.2 ha of rough grazing occurs on mainly brown forest soils where Agrostis and Festuca predominate in association with bracken (Pteridium aquilinum) of varying intensity. The remaining rough grazings are Flying bent (Molinia coerulea) and White bent (Nardus stricta) dominant grass heaths.

Since 1970 some 54.4 ha of rough grazing have been reseeded with perennial ryegrass, timothy and white clover mixtures. The farm also has another 50.9 ha of enclosed grassland, 32.4 ha of which are easily ploughable and 20.0 ha suitable for silage/hay cropping.

At least during the period of the Soil Biodiversity Programme, Sourhope carried a sheep flock of 2780 ewes and hoggs. There were 1441 Scottish Blackfaces, 1147 Cheviots, 96 Thoka x Cheviots, 71 Bowmonts (Shetland x Saxon Merino) and 25 Shetlands. The flock was managed on a 'regular age' basis with 5 crops of lambs taken from each ewe. Replacement ewes were all home-bred but most replacement rams were bought in. Blackface, Cheviot, Thoka x Cheviot, Blue-Face Leicester, Bowmont and Saxon Merino rams were used.

A suckler herd of 52 beef cows was maintained and used to control sward heights where required. Breed types in the herd were Blue-grey, Aberdeen Angus x Friesian, Hereford cross and Limousin cross. All cows were mated with a Limousin bull.

The Station's goat herd numbered 450 breeding females and functioned as the elite herd for the breeding programme operated by Cashmere Breeders Ltd. Part of the herd was used to investigate the inheritance of helminth resistance in collaboration with the Moredun Institute. The Elite herd was CAE accredited and had MAFF Scrapie monitored status.

A separate small herd of pure Siberian goats was also maintained.

There is winter housing for 50 cows, 40 store cattle, 600 eves and 350 goats. Two Dutch barns can store up to 180 tonnes of hay and/or straw and a covered silage clamp has a capacity of 400 tonnes. Up to 130 tonnes of palletised feedstuffs can be stored.

Part-covered sheep and cattle handling pens are situated at Sourhope and Auchope and a similar goat handling facility is located adjacent to the Giars and Rigg hefts.

Since 1987 the Station has accommodated a significant number of new research initiatives which utilise the scale of resources the Station can offer in terms of land areas and stock numbers while at the same time maintaining commercial farm output.

An important theme running through the work carried out at the Station is the utilization of indigenous vegetation and the development of sustainable systems within the context of meeting both agricultural and environmental objectives. Projects undertaken include the management of Nardus pastures by beef cattle (SOAEFD funded), the effects of mixed grazing by sheep and cattle on floristic change and annual production (EC funded), diet selection of indigenous grassland by red deer and South American Camelids (SOAEFD) and on foraging strategy (SOAEFD).

Changes in floristic composition , diet selection and soil nutrients of grazed sown swards subject to varying degrees of nutrient stress and levels of utilisation are being studied as a means of predicting the outcome of extensification policies with respect to agricultural output, ecological diversity and sustainability. This is a long-term experiment (7 years to date) which provides a resource for a number of other studies (SOAFED, NERC funded).

Research into alternative farm enterprises capable of exploiting the hill grazing resource started at Sourhope in 1987 when the Institute's breeding herd of cashmere goats was transferred from Glensaugh Research Station. These animals also form the Elite herd for the breeding programme operated in conjunction with Cashmere Breeders Ltd. The herd is being used in quantitative genetics research programme (SOAFED and EC) to establish the heritability of fibre traits. In collaboration with the Moredun Research Institute part of the herd is also used to investigate genetic resistance to gastro-intestinal parasites and its heritability. Studies are also in progress to determine the physiological mechanisms which control the growth and moult of cashmere fibre (SOAFED).

Improvement of the financial output of hill sheep systems by the production of wool by substantially better quality has been under investigation since 1989 when the Station's Bowmont (Shetland x Saxon Merino) flock was established. The main effort is directed towards development of breeding stock that can produce wool of such a fineness that fleece cash value is maximised but coupled to acceptable adaptation of the animals themselves to hill conditions. Research into aspects of the physiology of wool growth is also undertaken on animals drawn from the flock (SOAFED funded)

The effect on indigenous sheep breeds of increased prolificacy derived genetically from the Icelandic 'Thoka' strain has been under investigation since 1986 using a sub-flock of Cheviot origin which now numbers 76 ewes which possess the 'Thoka' gene.

Since late 2006, the Macaulay Institute ended its lease of the site (see news release). However, it is still possible to access the site for research purposes.

Sourhope is one of the 12 sites which form the United Kingdom environmental Change Network (ECN). The Network is funded by a number of sponsors (including DoE, MAFF, NERC and SOAFED) and measures soil, air and water quality and invertebrate, vertebrate and plant diversity with the long-term aim of identifying environmental changes and improving the understanding of their causes.

Sourhope was chosen as the main site for research in the SOAFED Micronet project between 1998-2002. Micronet aimed to answer fundamental questions about the relationships between soil microbial and plant vascular communities among a range of agriculturally important grasslands. In addition, the Station was selected as a field site for the NERC thematic programme 'Biological diversity an ecosystem function in soil'.


Sourhope picture library

Sourhope Research Station

near Kelso, Scotland

Site Manager: Gordon Common

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Dr Andrew Sier, Former Programme Manager, Soil Biodiversity Programme,
CEH Lancaster, Lancaster Environment Centre, Library Avenue, Bailrigg,
Lancaster, LA1 4AP, UK
Tel: +44 (0)1524 595801 | Fax: +44 (0)1524 61536 | e-mail

This page was last edited on Tuesday, February 19, 2013