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Exploring the value of cocksfoot in grass and diverse leys

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Ten farmers in the North Yorkshire Moors want to challenge the normal approach to re-seeding with fertiliser hungry leys.

The farmers are working with independent grassland experts and researchers from the University of Leeds to better understand the value of an under-used option for leys - cocksfoot.

The groups will investigate:

  • how to practically fit cocksfoot leys into the cutting/grazing platform,
  • their tolerance to drought or boggy conditions
  • different approaches for establishment

How it works

Cocksfoot has often been highlighted as valuable from both a productivity and environmental perspective.  However, its use in herbal leys is very limited – perhaps because it does not typically require reseeding and is therefore of limited commercial interest to seed companies.

In an effort to understand the value of cocksfoot within the ‘ideal ley’ and challenge the normal approach to re-seeding with fertiliser hungry leys, ten farmers in the Rye catchment will be taking part in the trial. 

They will be supported by independent grassland consultants, advisors and the University of Leeds to analyse yield, forage quality, rooting depth and percentage coverage whilst keeping records on stocking rates, grazing and soil health.

FIPL with North York Moors National Park Authority  & Howardian Hills AONB have supported the establishment of the trials, and Innovative Farmers will support the longer term monitoring.  The aim is to deliver better environmental outcomes from re-seeding particularly in relation to soil health and water infiltration to slow run off.

Trial design

Ten farmers will take part in the trials.  On each farm field-scale treatment and control areas have been established.  

An ‘ideal ley’ will be devised for each treatment site by Jonathan Holmes (independent expert – Lordington Agronomy), based on soil type and required use.  These will be established at the appropriate time using the same techniques for both the trial site and control (these techniques may be different on each farm)


  • Forage analysis will be taken in the first year of establishment to assess forage quality of grazing or any cut material.  This will be taken by the farmer at appropriate time and submitted for analysis.
  • Soil samples and baseline hydrological properties will be taken by the University of Leeds.  These will include VESS, bulk density, infiltration, water holding capacity, Earth worm counts.
  • The trial sites (control and treatment) will be assessed for quality and plant species,  % bare soil, plant species and % cover, rooting depth, yield and forage quality.
  • Farmers will keep annual record of management of field such as inputs, cutting and grazing – dates and stocking rates
Latest updates

Each farmer has established treatment and control areas on their trial site. These are at field scale and extend to approximately 50ha over the ten farms. Some sites are split fields and some are adjacent. In each case the aim has been to agree as similar control as possible.

Soil tests have been taken from each of the ten farm sites (treatment & control) and submitted to LANCROP for BSE soil test. This work was funded by FiPL, and took place before the field lab officially began.

Field lab launched

Group Coordinator

A portrait of Fraser Hugill.
Fraser Hugill

North Yorkshire

Fraser runs the family farm in North Yorkshire; a mixed arable and grassland farm with a pedigree herd of 50 pedigree Beef Shorthorn cows.

Alongside his farming experience Fraser worked as Head of Conservation Management at North York Moors National Park Authority. Upon leaving the NPA to take on the family farm he set up his own consultancy where key contracts have included acting as co-ordinator for Championing the Farmed Environment across the North of England, running a Countryside Stewardship facilitation fund group of 57 farmers in the North York Moors and has recently been assisting the Howardian Hills AONB deliver FiPL.


A portrait of Dr Ruth Wade.
Dr Ruth Wade

University of Leeds

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