Chris and Fiona Clark started their farming careers working together rearing and finishing outdoor pigs on the Loseley Park Estate near Guildford, Surrey.
After 10 years of ‘hands-on’ work they successfully sold the business and retrained in Graphic Design and Marketing but always had a burning ambition to own their own farm. It took another ten years and three years of active searching, but Chris and Fiona finally discovered Nethergill Farm in the Yorkshire Dales and moved into the farm in 2005.
The farm itself is a 400 acre traditional Dales hill farm, nestled into Langstrothdale at the headwaters of the Wharfe along the Dales Way. Most of the land is moorland and rough grazing ranging between 1,200 – 1,800 feet above sea level, with some areas of blanket bog and 70 acres of ‘in bye’ or grazing land round the house. Chris and Fiona run a flock of 65 Dalesbred ewes and rare breed Whitefaced Woodlanders, and a small suckler & breeding herd of rare and endangered White shorthorn cattle (just 230 left in the world), but such a remote location provides its challenges. Two years ago 12ft of snow drifts shut the farm off from the local town for 3 months, so access is quite difficult making any transportation costs quite high. The growing season is short so it is difficult to produce enough forage for winter food some years, and low productivity under 1 lamb per ewe, grazing under 1 ewe per acre.
Chris and Fiona recognise they have several key assets which they use to their advantage when incorporating marketing into their farm business plan. The location of the farm within Yorkshire Dales National Park provides one of their greatest assets – attracting more visitors, educational organisations and supports an environment rich in wildlife, as well as their own rare breed livestock on the farm. Visitors and educational visits provide an income to their farming enterprise enabling them to cover overheads, making the business much more viable.
The farm is also managed through Higher Level Stewardship scheme which is incredibly important in providing an income, helping to make the farm viable as a business, but also giving the Clarks an opportunity in business terms – producing slow grown sustainable grass-fed meat and adding value to their produce by direct selling beef and mutton.
“Our cattle and sheep are both hardy breeds and can survive on marginal land, but despite this rough grazing these animals produce a very high quality meat, high in tenderness, texture and taste as well as helping to restore habitats such as the blanket bog. Our long-term plans are to move the lambing to April/May time, aiming to keep the lambs on the farm until they reach mutton weight to sell direct off the farm and through internet sales, and we have recently introduced ‘ready meals’ for sale to all our self catering guests made from our own beef and mutton.”
Education to all ages is an important part of their philosophy demonstrating that the needs of food, farming and the environment need not and should not be in conflict. As well as running the farm and a B&B, Chris and Fiona have diversified their farm enterprise recently finishing 2 self catering haylofts, sympathetically converting an old cow byre into a field centre for educational workshops, put up 2 observation hides with wildlife cameras linked to the local schools and installed ‘Bertha’ the biomass boiler to provide sustainable heat and hot water, using Bracken their pure bred native working Dales Pony, to drag logs out of the plantation to use as firewood.
Chris and Fiona’s farming practices support a host of wildlife – crossbills, curlew, merlin, black grouse, red squirrel, orchids, eyebright, otter and brown trout to name a few. Working closely with Yorkshire Wildlife Trust and Yorkshire Dales National Park, they have undertaken tree planting to provide habitat for black grouse, and after an absence of 40-50 years Chris and Fiona are excited that they are back in the area.
Whilst work with the Yorkshire Dales River Trust and WharfedaleNaturalist Society to reduce river bank erosion, they have reduced the level of silt in the river creating breeding grounds for brown trout, and reduced flooding lower down the River Wharfe, enriching habitat all along the river, benefiting other species such as water vole and otter.
“Nethergill has given us a unique opportunity to live in one of the most beautiful parts of the country and surround ourselves with a piece of the countryside within which we can strive to enhance and develop the wildlife to its full potential. Our long-term aim is to create a wildlife haven combined with sustainable farming practice, which can financially support us and be visited and enjoyed by other like-minded countryside and wildlife enthusiasts. A “step back in time,” peaceful and secluded Nethergill is a unique haven for all.”
For more information about Nethergill Farm please go to their website: www.nethergill.co.uk
Photo credits: Photos courtesy of Chris & Fiona Clark, black grouse and red squirrel (Andy Hay, RSPB Images)