Thousands of years of farming has shaped the landscape of Northumberland National Park. Today over three quarters of Northumberland National Park is farmed, mainly for sheep and cattle. You will see farmsteads surrounded by enclosed, fertile fields which give way to open grazing or moorland.
How many farms are there?
There are about 220 farms in the National Park with an average size of 560 hectares, which is quite large for England.
Who owns them?
Half of the farmed land is owned by either Northumberland Estates, the Ministry of Defence, Lilburn Estates or the College Valley Estates. Many of the farms are worked by tenants rather than owners. Often these farms have passed down through the same family of tenants for many generations.
What breeds of animal are there?
Most sheep are black face sheep. Sometimes ewes are bred with a lowland ram such as a Blue-faced Leicester, Suffolk or Texel to produce a cross-bred or mule lamb. There are also Swaledale and Cheviot. On moorland where there are few walls, sheep are bred to their particular part of the hill. A ewe knows her patch and will stick to it. This is known as hefting.
The bleating of lambs as they gambol about is a wonderful springtime event. Please help our farmers by keeping dogs on a lead so as not to disturb the sheep. They take a long time to settle into grazing. Repeated movement by their mothers could result in weak lambs.
Most are beef cattle and a mix of continental cross cattle. A few herds of the more traditional Aberdeen Angus, Galloway and Blue-Grey cattle still remain.
Why do some fields look greener than others?
Areas around farmsteads have often been walled and improved through drainage, reseeding and fertilisers to produce ‘in-bye’ fields. They produce crops such as hay or silage for feeding livestock through the winter. These fields are also useful to keeping livestock from the moorland for dipping, shearing, tupping, lambing and sorting for sale.
Why build drystone walls if they don’t fence off an area?
Drystone walls do more than just divide up land. They provide shelter for livestock from strong winds. They are also home to wild creatures such as bats, birds, insects and small mammals. Skilled dry stone wallers are in short supply. It is hard work – every metre rebuilt involves handling about two tonnes of stone.