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Farming history

People have been farming in Gower since the Stone Age. The Vile, an area of medieval strip fields near Rhossili, provides evidence of how farming was carried out here. Crops including oats, barley, wheat, vegetables and fruit were planted on the raised strips. The crops were alternated and strips left fallow once they had cropped in order to reduce pests and allow the soil to regain fertility. Other strip fields are still evident elsewhere in Gower, but the Vile remains a rare example of an intact open field system – one of very few in the UK.

Another famous relic of old farming practices can be found in Gower: the commons. Commons were large tracts of land owned by the local landowners, usually lords, but where local people held the right to graze their livestock, including sheep, cows and goats. Commons are usually made up of rough grasslands and sometimes heathland, as is the case at Rhossili Down, Cefn Bryn, Ryer’s Down, Llanmadoc Hill and Hardings Down. These areas tend to become commons rather than farmland because the soil is poor and cannot support crops. Grazing provides an alternative use to cropping where the land is still productive and useful for farming.

Local names often provide evidence of past farming practices – Broughton Burrows, Penmaen and Nicholaston Burrows were once artificial rabbit warrens. Rabbits were introduced to the UK by Norman invaders as a cheap and easily cultivated source of meat and fur.