Philip Metcalfe farms with his father at Usha Gap farm in Lower Swaledale, between Thwaite and Muker, where he has 900 Swaledale ewes and 40 Limousin-cross cows. The farm also runs a campsite that’s open all year. The farm has been in the Metcalfe family since the 1930s, and comes with grazing rights on Muker Common, Ivelet Moor and Ivelet Pasture, two of which are Sites of Special Scientific Interest, and turn purple with heather at the end of summer.
Around the farm a network of dry stone walls encloses the farm’s grazing fields, many of which are wildflower meadows, which Philip prefers to grassland that is improved or reseeded. Looking ahead to the future, Philip senses uncertainty and is unsure where the major decisions are going to come from. He is in favour of schemes that give payment by results, supporting farmers and encouraging an increase in biodiversity in the fells and dales, such as that being piloted in Wensleydale.
Without financial support, he says, hill farming as it is cannot continue, and this would alter the dales completely. ‘The whole landscape’s because of farming, traditional farming methods. We have to have something in these hills otherwise it will intensify, or be ranched, which will be equally as bad.’
In his fields, both those that are improved and the meadows, he has lapwings, curlews and oystercatchers nesting each year. And in some of the traditional barns on the land, barns owls are successfully breeding.