Dr Sarah Beynon admits that when she and her husband decided to convert a traditional Welsh family farm from beef to bugs in 2013, most people thought they were “absolutely mad”.

“We had the typical, ‘Oh my God, if I see a tarantula walking into my farm next door, I’ll know where that has come from!’” she laughs.

A decade on, however, The Bug Farm is not only a leading tourist attraction in rural Pembrokeshire with a bug museum, edible insect café and food line; it is also home to a research centre that is informing Welsh agriculture and environmental policy and a farm that uses ruminant grazing and biodiversity measures to protect and promote hard-working insect species in the locality.

But, how did a beef farmer’s daughter become an internationally renowned bug expert?

Sarah grew up on a traditional mixed farm on land leased from St David’s Cathedral, where her parents, John and Pauline, kept pedigree Welsh Black cattle and a herd of mixed-breed Welsh mountain sheep, as well as growing barley, wheat and fodder.

“Dad would put his life and soul into saving a lamb or a calf and giving it the best start possible,” she says. “And I was brought up that you give the animal the best life possible for when they’re with us.”

Equally influential were her mother and grandmother, who encouraged Sarah’s love of the natural world and in particular, insects; collecting and studying creatures like ladybirds, before returning them to their habitats.

“I think that’s what just inspired that love of learning about what lives with us on the farm and that it’s not just the animals we’re farming, it’s about everything else,” says Sarah.

“And especially in Wales, 80% of our landscape is farmed… therefore we have a massive responsibility to the life that lives on it.”

Sarah’s “Eureka” moment, however, came as a biology student at Oxford University, while on a tour of the Hope Entomological (insect) Collections.

Dr Sarah Beynon on her farm with twin steers Tyddewi Barney and Tyddewi Noah.

“Moths the size of your face and beautiful metallic beetles,” she recalls of her awe of “this total hidden world that makes up over 80% of all animals on earth”; and crucially underpins “everything we rely on”.

“And yet most people go, ‘Ugh, that’s a bug!’” she continues.

Indeed, her undergraduate thesis examined how to improve habitats for beetles to act as predators of pests in arable crops, while her PhD explored the value of dung beetles to British farmers, with Sarah later estimating they were worth £367 million a year to the UK cattle industry.

Coming home

By 2013, Sarah was combining academia with presenting a science show on the BBC, when an unmissable opportunity arose in Wales.

A few years earlier, Sarah’s parents had left the home farm after a rental hike made it unsustainable to continue farming there. As her family had lived there for 100 years, Sarah had always assumed this was the original family farm.

Sarah Beynon as a child on the family farm near St David's in Pembrokeshire

She was surprised to discover, however, that the original farm was two miles away at Lower Harglodd, which was farmed by her uncle before the land was leased for 20 years.

When he passed away, Lower Harglodd came up for sale.

“We had the extraordinary opportunity to be able to buy the old family farm,” says Sarah, who made the decision with her husband, Andy Holcroft, a chef.

Writing “business plan after business plan” to convince the bank of their “bug farm”, the sale eventually went through in December 2013, with the support of Sarah’s aunt and her parents, who sold a parcel of outlying land to invest in the project.

But that was only the start of the hard work.

Sarah's parents, John and Pauline, pictured with the family's Welsh black bull of the year in 1987, Tyddewi William, who was unbeaten in that showing season across England and Wales.

“We bought a ‘Grade 2’ listed farm (defined as a UK building or structure that is “of special interest, warranting every effort to preserve it”} in a national park, that hasn’t been lived in for 20 years and we have nothing left. Where on earth do we start?!” she recalls of the challenge that lay ahead.

The Bug Farm

Sarah and Andy have 100 acres at Lower Harglodd and also graze 40 acres of commonage. They also recently took over 60 acres that they had farmed in partnership with Sarah’s parents, who have sadly passed away, but left their daughter with a strong sense of self-belief.

“I was always made to believe growing up that I could do anything,” says Sarah, “and I think without that support, we wouldn’t have the guts and the determination to do what we do now.”

While the original plan had been to farm edible insects themselves, Sarah and Andy decided that their respective skillsets were better employed in education, food production and research.

In terms of the tourist attraction, which draws about 15,000 visitors a year, what was once the milking parlour is now a tropical bug zoo; home to everything from giant tarantulas to “stick insects as long as your forearm”.

A museum display at Sarah Beynon's Bug Farm

“Just to give that ‘wow factor’,” explains Sarah, who adds that there is also a “Meet The Bugs” experience for braver visitors.

Meanwhile, the museum features everything from the UK’s largest private butterfly collection to a British bug house, with educational exhibits and walled garden, farm, arable and wetland trails showcasing biodiversity.

It is also home to the UK’s first edible insect café, Grub Kitchen, which was developed by Andy. What’s the best-seller?

Bug Farm Foods mocha chilli crunch cricket cookies

“It’s probably still the bug burger,” responds Sarah, “it’s made from VEXo, which is our insect and plant protein mince, so it’s similar protein to beef in a beef burger, but about 80% less saturated fat.”

(Vegetarian options are also available.)

Andy and Sarah have also developed a food line called Bug Farm Foods, with products made on-site ranging from chocolate chip cricket cookies to the aforementioned VEXo, which was developed with support from the Welsh government and Innovate UK and is due to launch on shop shelves in 2023.

Complementing, not competing

Aside from the novelty factor, Sarah says customers are attracted by the products’ nutritional value as insects contain “all the essential amino acids”. Rather than competing with traditional protein sources like meat, however, she believes insect farming can be a diversification option for existing UK farms, especially by efficiently and sustainably using up “side streams” of current agricultural industries that are not valued.

The Bug Farm's golden orb web spider in the tropical zoo

“The husks, the stems, the wrinkly bits, the tops of carrots etc; all of those bits have a low value. Insects are extremely efficient at converting that low-value, low-protein, high-cellulose feed into protein, so they are 12-25 times as efficient, say, as cattle are at doing the same,” she says.

“So that’s what we all believe as an industry: that it’s offered a huge diversification opportunity for existing farmers. It’s just getting the technology right to allow that to happen.”

Indeed, having initially sourced their edible insects from Thailand and subsequently mainland Europe, Sarah and Andy are now buying all of their insects within the UK; though Brexit threw a spanner in the works as there was a delay in moving through the novel food legislation that governs production from the EU.

“At the moment, we’re stuck pretty much with just being able to use crickets,” says Sarah.

“We can use meal worms and buffalo insects- which are a type of lesser meal worm- and locusts, but unfortunately, the industry diversity has been stymied a bit because a lot of businesses went out of business during basically having almost a year of not being able to trade or sell their products [due to the legislative delay].”

Farming for nature

Sarah and Andy’s farm is also home to around 30 Welsh Black cattle; but rather than being bred for beef, their role is as “conservation grazers”, eating the dominant grasses and scrub to allow biodiversity to emerge to support the insect population.

As a research centre, The Bug Farm has pioneered studies on how farming can support biodiversity and vice versa; and indeed have influenced agri-environmental policy.

“We managed to get dung beetles included into the Glastir Advanced agri-environment scheme in Wales, where you can get paid to look after the dung beetles,” cites Sarah as just one example.

Another project is encouraging local farmers to create connected wildlife “corridors” through their land, while there is also an endeavour to re-introduce the marsh fritillary butterfly, which went extinct on St David’s Peninsula in 2013.

Sarah believes that farmers need financial government support to change practice, “because changing practice is expensive and it’s hard; and it’s frightening”, but is hopeful for new agri-policy in Wales that “actually values the bio?diversity”.

“Hopefully the new payments will actually support farmers to deliver change,” she says. “We can’t expect farmers to cash flow that, because they don’t have the cash to do that, which is why we need to be paying farmers to do that.”


Sarah doesn’t mince her words when it comes to future fears.

“We are in the middle of a biodiversity mass extinction caused by humans and we could see within our lifetime over half of insect species on planet earth going extinct; and when they make up 80% of all animals and are responsible for pretty much most systems on earth working, then we need to realise that we would be absolutely screwed without them,” she says, spelling out that insects are vital for everything from crop pollination to pest control.

“We need to be frightened; but we also need not to be so frightened that we don’t do anything about it and we bury our heads in the sand, because we haven’t got long to act to make a difference,” concludes Sarah.

“We need large hedges, we need polycultures, we need fields to look untidy… don’t be scared of what your neighbour is thinking looking over the hedge!”

More info to learn more visit www.thebugfarm.co.uk/