Martin has lived at Redshaw all his life. The farmhouse is roughly 180 years old, and the farm has been in the Coates family since 1947, when a severe winter left a dwindled flock of just thirteen sheep. Hard work, adaptation and innovation have kept the family going ever since. Martin looks after a flock of 520 breeding ewes – roughly half Swaledales and half Llyns – along with lambs, hoggs and shearlings, and has a twenty-strong herd of Herefords. 10,000 metres of dry stone walls enclose the fields.
Redshaw is known across the Dales as a tough farm. The house sits at 1400 feet above sea level, and the tough, rush-covered land that is used for grazing rises above it. The benefit of this type of rough grazing is that when sheep are sold from here, for grazing on lower farms, they always go to a better farm and are guaranteed to thrive. The land also suits wading birds, including curlews, lapwings, oystercatchers and snipe, and numbers of black grouse are on the rise. But with wetter summers, hay is becoming a bit of a rarity – there has not been a sufficient set of dry days to make a hay crop for ten years. Martin has two sons, Brian, who works full time on the farm, and James, who works as a waller and helps on the farm when he can.
Martin is concerned about the continuation of financial support for hill farming. ‘There are far too many political variables, which we’ve no control of. That does worry me. And there’s nobody really standing up for hill farmers. What do we have to do to make people see the importance of maintaining farmer’s incomes?’