6 Wensleydale from above Castle Bolton

d12032-castle-boltonRichard-SpensleyRichard Spensley – Farmer and Landowner

This view’s my life in a nutshell. I was born at Aysgarth; my family’s farmed here for 150 years. How I visualise it is that the heart of Wensleydale is here. You have the arteries running off it, which are Walden, Bishopdale and the top end of Wensleydale. They come together at Aysgarth and you get this wide expanse of fertility. Further down dale it opens out and levels, but this to me has always been the heart of the dale.

That’s my land in the foreground. We bought 1146 acres of which my daughter had 200, my son has sort of 900, and grazing rights on 2005 acres of heather moor. My son farms the major farm – basically this building and all this land in front. My daughter, they’re on a rented farm but they have the best bit of land that’s out of sight here.

The bottom of the dale here’s always been dairy, but it’s significantly changing now, in that there’s only one dairy farm in sight from here. Every householder used to have a cow – these little buildings are all for two cows. The village here was an old mining village. 60 working people lived in this village – there are only 30 houses now. Majority had a field, a field house as we know them, and right to graze in two big pastures behind.

Farming at the moment in these dales and the upper dales is totally dependent on brown envelopes as we call them – handouts of one kind or another; environmental schemes. They have a place, the money’s required, but if the agriculture was viable on its own, the environment would have been sustained in a satisfactory manner without the money. Before, the only expense virtually was man hours – two horses if you liked and fodder for your cows, which you grew. But that now doesn’t create a living wage. This farm in the ‘40s and ‘50s was carrying seven hired men. The farm now carries one hired man and my son, and they have an increased sheep flock and an increased cattle herd. The sheep flock will be 10% higher, the production off that will be 30% higher, and cattle will be 200% higher. Before, if you were milking 40 cows in that area, 100 gallons of milk was a large farm. When my son-in-law left he had 13-1400 gallon a day going off the same land.

The sheep areas are to a large degree totally dependent on the environmental payments. The lamb production off the uplands, whilst it’s always going to be beneficial to the environment and the sustainability of the visual aspect, is very difficult to sustain financially without outward assistance.

We’ve planted trees in that gully you can see through the Millennium Trust. It’s waste land to a degree, nothing but rabbits and rocks and elm skeletons. We’ve put in a standard mix of a lot of wild cherry, and we’ve included some scots pine – which aren’t on the Millennium Trust menu, but are advantageous to black grouse. We’ve actually had black grouse in there. We lost them a couple of winters back with the frost. They’re quite rare round here.

It is a pleasurable experience doing the work in good weather. I like the achievement of helping the livestock and the land to produce. It’s a total encompassment of the whole aspect of living. It’s bigger than land. It’s the fact as school kids we knew where every bird’s nest was from here to school – we knew what there were.

I think the main thing that crops up in my thoughts is how insignificant our lifetime is, on the whole dale. There are things there that’ll have been worse than brownfield sites in the mining days, and yet they’re grassed over and forgotten. I mean some of these lynchets – the plateaus – from the 8th, 9th, 13th and 14th centuries would have been massive excavations. And then the creation of the mill. And yet there’s nothing there. If you study it as an archaeologist you see bits and pieces, but there’s no significance.

View 7

7 Widdale Great Tarn

d12013-widdale-fellJane-smlJane Le Cocq – Farm Conservation Adviser, Yorkshire Dales National Park Authority

This view is taken from the top of Widdale Fell, with Dent and Garsdale in the distance. This is a farm I was doing a survey on in 2011. It was a hard slog up to the top of Widdale Fell. It was a really clear day and you could see all the Lakeland hills in the distance. I walked across the top of the fell and suddenly came across this fantastic tarn. The water was really, really still, like a millpond, and I just thought, ‘Wow!’ – it was so unexpected.

The top of Widdale Fell is heath. There was quite a bit of blanket bog: deep peat which supports plants like heather and cotton grass. That was basically what I was going up there to survey. Down here (just behind where the picture’s taken) I found the ruins of a little shepherd’s hut, which had a tiny fireplace in the corner of it – it was really lovely. It is high up there, and you can just imagine them on a night, huddled round a little fire while it’s blowing a gale.

I’m a Farm Conservation Adviser. Part of my job is to help farmers get into Higher Level Stewardship. In order to do that they have to have a survey done of the whole farm. You have to record every feature, whether it’s moorlands, meadows, woods, barns, walls – everything. It’s all done on foot, with a map, just marking down as you walk everything that’s there; the type of habitat; what condition it’s in; and what they could do to improve it for various species.

This farm has been in Stewardship for quite a number of years. Before they went into Stewardship there was a lot of exposed peat, and not much heather, possibly due to the number of sheep being grazed. When sheep graze, the heather, cotton grass and other small herbs get eaten out. It’s replaced by rough grass, so other species miss out. If the peat’s exposed it leads to a lot of erosion, and then you’re losing carbon, because peat bogs are a vital carbon sink – comparable to forests even. The environmental schemes help to compensate farmers for reducing or taking stock off those areas.

Now up here the exposed peat is revegetating. There’s red and black grouse and other moorland birds, lots of diversity in the sward itself: lots of little herbs and rare bog plants like sundews – which sound boring, but they’re not really!

I’ve always been interested in wildlife and nature. I used to be a veterinary nurse. I lived in the Channel Islands for years, but when we came back to Yorkshire I had to do something different, because the veterinary nursing didn’t fit in with family and lifestyle. I retrained, and over quite a few years took a degree in environmental conservation. And then luckily a job came up here, which I got, in 2005.

I grew up in Otley. We had relatives up in the Dales so I knew it really well. I used to be a volunteer here at the Park when I was a teenager – I always dreamt about working in the Dales.

I like everything about my job. I like being able to get out and go to places which you’d normally never get access to. I like the diversity – you do a bit of ecology; a bit of woodland management; I’m really interested in vernacular architecture so that fits in really well too. I like meeting the farmers.

We have a family farm with suckler cows. Because I’ve got a veterinary nursing background, I do all that type of thing, and also paperwork and admin. I love it. It’s also good because in my work I can see things from both sides. My sons are not at all interested in conservation and would be happy with acres and acres of ryegrass!

A lot of my job is trying to illustrate to farmers that they wouldn’t necessarily be losing out economically, and in some cases they might be better off in Stewardship, because they know they’ve got a set income for ten years. And when you show farmers what they’ve got on their farms in terms of biodiversity and historic features, a lot of them are really interested. Often they haven’t seen it in those kinds of terms before – they’ve just seen it as somewhere to raise livestock. But because the species and habitats wouldn’t be there without farmers managing the land for livestock production, it’s important that that management carries on.

View 8

8 Moughton Scar

08 Moughton ScarDavid-SharrodDavid Sharrod – Director, Yorkshire Dales Millennium Trust

This is taken on top of Moughton Scar; a ridge that runs sort of midway between Pen-y-Ghent and Ingleborough. Despite being in the middle of one of the most heavily visited and best loved parts of the Dales, not many people know about it.

As you can see, it’s limestone pavement. When you stand up there and look towards Ingleborough it’s almost a lunar landscape; desolate – in the nicest possible way. I genuinely love it up there. I like it in winter when you’ve got snow and ice, but also in late summer when you get the contrast between the heather and the limestone.

I’ve always thought that the best views in high country are actually not from the highest peaks, but from slightly lower ones, whether that’s in the Alps, or the Lake District, or the Dales. So on Moughton you look across to Pen-y-Ghent and Ingleborough, and you get a sense of their scale.

When I’m up there, I always think that we live on this small, crowded island, but that when you start walking about Northern England you find there’s a lot of nothing, a lot of big open spaces and big skies. And then you get the contrast with the valley, of course. Behind you here is Ribblesdale, which is full of life from the farms, the quarries, and the communities there.

I first came to the Dales on a sixth form field trip to Austwick. It was a magical week, and a week that changed my life. It opened my eyes to the Dales as a fantastic place, but there was also a brilliant teacher who changed my mind about a few things – he persuaded me to go to university for a start. I never dreamed that many years later I’d end up living a few doors away from where we stayed.

That experience comes to mind during discussions about our education and outreach work at the Trust. We talk about whether people need ongoing experiences, and a proper structured introduction to the countryside, but I actually know that bringing somebody out for a day – or if you can a week – can also change somebody’s life. We see that happen all the time.

I’ve worked at the Trust for 15 years now. We have a very wide remit, but also in a way a narrow remit, which is to support the well-being of this area, as simple as that. We started off with a big Millennium Commission grant, to do a landscape project essentially: tree planting, restoring drystone walls, field barns, historic buildings, historic features, wildlife habitats and community buildings. We’ve carried on doing landscape work, but we’ve also diverted into all sorts of other things, because you soon realise that everything in a landscape like this is interconnected.

One of the simple premises of our charity was that 18,000 people live in the Park, but millions of people from all over the world visit here or love it, and if you could just get a pound out of each of them every year you could do a hell of a lot. 48,000 people have donated – much more than a pound each! – and we’re still here after 15 years.

One of our most obvious impacts has been through tree planting. There are many reasons to plant trees: it’s good for wildlife, carbon sequestration, flood control, and the landscape, but above all it’s a mark of confidence in the future. We’ve helped others to plant more than a million trees since 1997. We don’t own land ourselves, but we help to pull the money in, co-ordinate the work, and get trees planted. Our tree dedication scheme is still the main source of our donations.

View 9

9 Calton fields

d12006-caltonRobert-CrispRobert Crisp – Farmer

To be honest I haven’t really got a favourite view as such. I’ve never really thought that much about it. It’s just part of landscape – you take it for granted. I mean, if I go up there tomorrow and there isn’t that view, I would know then, but because it’s there I just accept it. I go up there every day to feed the sheep in spring. I always find it very relaxing because you’re away from everybody; I just find it easy there.

I moved here in 1959 when I was four. My father died when we were in our teens, and me and my brother just kept farming, with my mother at that time. When he died my mother got tenancy. I remember she used to go down to help milk and keep coming back in to get us ready for school. It’s just what happens in farming. It’s a way of life; it’s what we do. We were just 100 acres then. That was quite adequate to make a living off, but you can’t make a living off 100 acres any more. Everyone’s going at a faster pace these days. It’s a bigger scale; you’re pushed more. Supermarkets are controlling prices and you’re playing with quantity. We need supermarkets, but they’ve got a lot of power.

We’re quite fortunate. There were three farms in this village and this is the only one left. They were sold off in bits, and that’s enabled us to expand. A couple of years ago we managed to actually buy the farm. Up until then we were producing milk as well as sheep, but the next generation don’t want to be tied to producing milk; you have to be here twice a day. The next generation have seen there’s more things out there, and we aren’t getting any younger.

I farm with my brother, and I’ve got a daughter who farms – she goes to New Zealand every winter shearing sheep for about four months. We’ve got about 300 acres of that kind of land you can see here, and 300 acres of moorland, and just under 1000 sheep. We run a couple of hundred geld hog lambs, which are last year’s lambs that are coming into flock next year. They go onto moor because all they’ve got to do is grow. We put Swaledale sheep with one lamb onto other moor, then we put Swaledale Pures further up. Breeding stock with twins we keep on the better land. It’s all fairly good land to be honest. It’s quite steep up at the top here, steeper than it looks in this picture.

I don’t find farming side stressful, I find paperwork stressful; there’s so much paperwork with it these days. But I don’t think I’d ever want to do anything else. You’re just free, aren’t you? When you go up there, you’re away from people. You’re up there and it’s yours, and you’re quite privileged really that other people in theory can’t be there.

You can’t ask for a better way of life to be honest. But after saying that there are downsides. There are some days when you’re stuck in a puddle and it’s raining or it’s windy or it’s snowing or whatever, and you think ‘why am I doing this?!’ We do have problems with people too: they do leave gates open and they do bring dogs. It’s quite frustrating when you go up onto moor and see somebody with a dog running about. The sheep naturally run, and when they’re carrying two or three lambs they aren’t meant to run; you do get abortions. Most people don’t understand – they don’t know they’re in lamb. If they see some lambs there they’re more responsible, but it’s more important earlier on.

Each sheep’s an individual. You sort of recognise them. You keep seeing them and you think, ‘oh yeah, that’s the one that did whatever last year’. You do – as farmers put it – ken sheep. They are different in lots of ways – they look different, and they act different. All right, if you’ve got a thousand and there’s one missing, you can’t pinpoint it to ‘it’s that one missing’, but you’ve a fair idea. It is an interesting way of life.

View 10

10 Barden Moor

d12022-barden-moor10-Paul-WilbyPaul Wilby – Headkeeper, Bolton Abbey and Chatsworth Estates

Bolton Abbey is the Yorkshire estate of the Duke & Duchess of Devonshire. It covers approximately 30,000 acres in total. 14,000 acres are grouse moor with the River Wharfe running through the middle, creating two almost equal moorland areas east and west of the river.

I was lucky enough to come here to work for the family in 2006. It’s a great family to work for; they’re really interested and they really care about the moor. I’ve been in grousekeeping now for over 40 years – virtually all my working life. I actually come from Essex and the moorland here very much reminds me of the marshes – that wildness and that quiet.

Moorland gamekeeping is about maintaining the habitat in a way that suits grouse, and making sure the moor is there for future generations. It’s about looking after it in a proper manner, without abusing it, or doing anything to damage it.

When asked for my favourite view, I was tempted to say ‘wherever I happen to be looking any time I’m at work’; this is an outstandingly beautiful part of North Yorkshire. The view I have chosen is one from the lunch hut on Thorpe Fell, looking straight down the valley to Strid Wood and Beamsley Beacon on the horizon. You can see the moor’s been worked for generations – that’s part of its interest. The chimney of the old Onion Hill colliery in the foreground is a monument to all those who worked there. Coal was sledged down to Thorpe village and then taken to Grassington to be used for smelting lead in, I think, the 1700s.

When I was here in the early ‘70s, this area was partly covered by hundreds of acres of bracken. Its condition now is testament to the determination of the family and staff and the scale of the conservation project they’ve undertaken.

You can just see black parts here, where we’ve burnt strips of heather. The patterns created by heather burning are so important for the health of the moor and its wildlife. What we’re trying to produce is a mosaic of everything from freshly burnt to long heather, so that the grouse have got nesting cover, shelter, and food in various shapes and forms. We burn it because when it gets old it loses nutritional value – it gets leggy and not very palatable. You also want short heather, and bare ground for the chicks to get out on to dry. One advantage of this is that all the waders like the short heather and the burns too, so you get the curlews and golden plovers coming up to nest, which adds to the diversity of the wildlife. Ideally you want lots of small burns. Grouse are territorial. If they can see each other they’ll fight and defend their territory, so the more broken up the ground is the more territories you can have, and that way we can maximize stock levels.

When you’re up here, you get the wider panoramic view that takes in Simon’s Seat on the left all the way round to Halton Heights on the right. It’s a view I never tire of looking at. It’s a good place just to stand and enjoy, whether on a spring day with the grouse and curlew calling, in the summer with the heavy scent and colour of the heather, or a still clear cold autumn day. I enjoy being up there in all weathers, just thinking ‘this is where I belong’.