WEST BIRKRIGG, APPERSETT
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John Fawcett farmed at West Birkrigg until 2017, when he retired. He followed on from his father and his grandfather before him. The farm’s grazing land includes meadows, intakes and higher land, extending for 235 acres to a height of around 1300ft on the limestone flanks of Widdale Fell where curlews are abundant in the spring.
John’s father focused on nurturing a Swaledale flock of sheep and the lambs were sold as stores, and kept a herd of milking cows. Later John switched the emphasis to breeding fat lambs for the meat market and he takes great pride in the improvement of land in the last few decades; when he left school and began working full time on the farm with his father in the late 1960s innovations in farming – new machinery and the introduction of fertilisers – allowed him to increase productivity. ‘An old saying was that you farm as if you were going to farm for ever. I think I’ve improved the land all the time, so that makes me feel good. It’s not just productive, I have it tidied up and it looks well.’
John has retired and West Birkrigg Farm has passed out of his family, into another’s farmer’s care. John is aware that there is a tendency for farms to become larger, and it’s tough for Dales farmers to compete with lowland farmers – government incentives, he hopes, will help these smaller, scale, traditional farms to keep going.
‘Wensleydale is beautiful and the farmers are keeping it that way, but the scale of what’s developing lower down the country is beginning to put pressure on it. I would like to see that there’s some form of help to keep it as it is. I think there’s a place for farmers to make a good living here, and wildlife to be with them as well.’