The Yorkshire Dales National Park embraces fourteen major dales as well as the rolling backs of the Howgills, the Orton Fells, and the Lune Valley. As you pass through the national park you’ll feel a different character in each dale, with its river and tributary streams, farms, stone-built villages and woodlands.
The National Park extends for 2,179 square km (841 square miles) and in this vast space harbours 1090 farms. These farms are integral to the fabric of the land and have shaped its appearance over hundreds of years in a gradual process of woodland clearance and the establishment of fields.
The upland sheep in these dales are key in the nationwide trade in lamb, principally the Swaledales which, when crossed with Bluefaced Leicesters, produce the Mules that are sent further south. Today, the Dales landscape is largely manicured by sheep, but there is a gradual increase in the number of cattle on the hills, including native breeds such as Belted Galloway. Their grazing habits allow for more diversity in flowers and grasses, and also provide a greater chance for natural regeneration of trees. Thus the landscape, which is already varied depending on its historical use, continues to respond differently in different locations, as a reflection of the practices on individual farms. This project aims to collect farmers’ views about their own practices, their livestock and the land they work with day after day, in all weathers, in all seasons.
One of the most distinctive built features of this farmed landscape is the network of walls: an estimated 5000km in the National Park, each made by hand. Well built walls may stand for a hundred years but the pressures of weather and stock, and humans climbing over them, add to the need for maintenance all year round. Stones for the walls tend to be sourced locally so you will see different styles of walls as you travel through the dales and, as has been the custom for centuries here, these are dry stone walls – held up by the stones themselves, and the art and skill of farmers and wallers.
Stone barns are a cherished feature of the farmed landscape. Not all are still in use but the majority are, either for shelter for livestock, or for storage of fodder (or both). In the summer, many of the barns in the lower reaches of land are surrounded by meadows – June and July are the best times of year to catch these in full flower. Flourishing meadows are a central part of land management for many farmers. In the course of this project the interviews will help to reveal current attitudes to grazing, fertiliser use, meadowland and organic approaches to livestock management.
Many farms have rights of way across them. The Yorkshire Dales is criss-crossed by footpaths and walking is the best way to really get a feel for the land, and the way it has been shaped by farming. This project aims to capture a range of present-day views from farmers whose actions are both determined by the land around them (they must respond to conditions, ranging from fertile to poor soil and from steep-sided land to wet valley bottom fields) and affect the land: the more intensive the farming practice, the less biodiverse the landscape tends to be. We’ll be talking to a range of farmers across the dales to discover more about their livestock as well as the meadows and woodlands on their land, and their plans and hopes for the immediate future.