The Yorkshire Dales National Park is home to hundreds of farmers who look after grazing animals in the valleys and on the windswept hill tops. Their knowledge of fells and dales is intimate and detailed, gained from being out in all weathers, year after year after year, and successful sheep breeding goes hand in hand with a knowledge of the land. The nurturing of hill-bred sheep provides the primary breeding stock for the country. The main breeds here are Swaledales, Dalesbred, Wensleydales, Bluefaced Leicester and Mules.
No two farmers are the same. One person’s experience will reflect the extent and nature of the land his or her flocks and cattle graze, the number and breed of animals, and any other elements of their business, such as a campsite or bunk barn. And, as with every walk of life, personality is a driving force. The collection of interviews for this project will aim to represent a range of people and approaches to farming, and reveal a story of the Yorkshire Dales landscape in the early 21st century.
Voices From the Land has come about to meet a need for an up-to-date record of farming in the Yorkshire Dales. Many of the farmers working today are following in their parents’ footsteps, but there are also farmers who are the first in their family to take on the challenges and joys of working with the land in the Yorkshire Dales.
Tradition is a powerful thing and many practices remain the same as they were in the 1960s – 1980s but there have been many changes, some, for instance driven by the country’s economics and politics, others by a shift in focus on ecological resilience in the midst of concerns about climate change. The use of the internet and social media and an increase in tourism and opportunities for diversification have also played a part. The interviews will be carried out to capture this moment in time, seen from farmers’ perspectives; photographs and recordings of voices will add depth and create a legacy for the future.
The Dales Countryside Museum holds archives of recordings, sketches, written notes and photographs of farmers in the Dales dating from the 1930s-1980s. These provide a valuable resource but there is a need to bring them up to date. Following the success of Land Keepers, a project documenting upland farming in Cumbria between 2012 and 2014, the Farmer Network discovered that there was an interest among farmers and museum curators in doing something similar in the Yorkshire Dales, ensuring that the archives are updated and the material made as widely accessible as possible. New material will complement existing records including some made by Marie Hartley, Ella Pontefract and Joan Ingilby and oral recordings made by Leeds University in the 1960s.
The Exhibition and Archives
Photographs, writing and audio recordings will be shared in an exhibition at the Dales Countryside Museum, opening November 2017. All the material gathered during the course of this project will be prepared for archiving at the Museum, and will also be archived at Leeds University.
As farmers are interviewed their profiles will be added to the website. Full transcripts of the interviews will not be included on this website, but will be archived at the Museum. To view the profiles, follow this link to Farmer Profiles.
The Yorkshire Dales National Park is criss crossed by an estimated 5000km of stone walls, each one made by hand, without any cement, using traditional practices and skills born from years of work. Their patterns lend character to each individual dale, as do the stone barns – it’s estimated that there are more than 6000 in use, with 1000 in Swaledale alone. In between these, fields and woodland provide a spectrum of greens with a blend of sheep and cattle grazing, wildflower meadows, and woodland. The Landscape section of this website gives more detail.
The research team
The Farmer Network has appointed a writer and photographer to lead the research team. Writer Harriet Fraser and photographer Rob Fraser carried out Land Keepers with upland farmers in Cumbria. They will be working with a team of volunteers to conduct interviews, photograph farmers, farms, farming events and landscape in the Yorkshire Dales, and transcribe current interviews as well as archived audio collections in the Dales Countryside Museum. If you would like to get involved as a volunteer, please contact us.
As a way of getting local communities involved in this project, and to give children an opportunity to learn more about farming and landscape in their area, three local schools will be invited to spend a day on a farm, and a day back at school to create their own artwork to reflect their experiences. Updates will appear on the blog.
Voices From the Land has been made possible with funding from the Heritage Lottery Fund (HLF), and from the Yorkshire Dales National Park’s Sustainability Development Fund.