The islands comprising the Bailiwick of Guernsey are located in the English Channel, which enjoys warm, wet climatic conditions because of the meteorological phenomenon of the Gulf Stream.
Guernsey is very special because it is situated on the convergence of the Boreal (cold temperature) and Lusitanian (warm temperature) marine bio-geographical regions.
The natural granite geology of the islands was overlain with wind blown loess (silt sediment) soil deposits that formed at the end of the last ice age and wind blown sands that were blown inland from the coastal sand dunes during the Middle Ages. This has given rise to deep loamy soils that produces ideal pasture and grazing conditions for dairy animals.
Agricultural fields within the island are surrounded by either earth banks or stone walls. These field boundaries have been preserved by conservation policies with the specific aim of maintaining the traditional small wild flower meadows that represent some of the characteristic charm of the island. The meadows and earth bank boundaries give rise to a profusion of wild flowers, and during the springtime are a rich mass of colour, shape and form.
- In Guernsey we measure areas of land in vergees (approximately 2.5 vergees = 1 acre of land).
- Guernsey is 38,660 vergees in size, of which approximately 15,250 vergees is classed as agricultural land.
- This land is sub-divided as follows:
- Dairy farmers use about 8,000 vergees
- Commercial potato growers and market gardeners use about 1,500 vergees
- The remainder is used by horse owners and by others for a wide variety of leisure activities associated with agriculture
- The small size of fields is a special feature of Guernsey. Field boundaries (earth banks and hedges) are some of the oldest historical features visible on the island today. Many were already several hundred years old when they were shown on the 1787 Duke of Richmond map of the island.
- Agriculture and dairy farming has remained relatively small scale in Guernsey especially when compared with the United Kingdom and mainland Europe.
- There are over 3,000 fields farmed by dairy farmers in Guernsey with the average size of each field being less than 4 vergees, or 1.4 acres.
- Less than 15% of land is owned by the farmer that works it, 85% will be rented on an annual tenancy without any long-term security.
- The distant location of some fields in relation to the main farm buildings, coupled with the small field sizes, often means that our island farmers do not benefit as much from economies of scale as farmers elsewhere.
- The traditional earth banks and walls that border many agricultural fields on the island are the remnants of the wild flower meadows that existed prior to the intensification of agriculture.
- All local dairy farmers have a Farm Biodiversity Action Plan developed specifically for their own farm that maintains the remaining wetland and traditional wildflower meadows, whilst encouraging wildlife to flourish within the island.