Farming in the National Park

Today, more than three-quarters of the Park is farmed. It is characterised by farmsteads surrounded by enclosed, fertile fields, giving way to open rough grazing or moorland. Farming is mainly sheep and cattle production.

There are 256 farms within, or partly within, the Park boundary. These farms tend to be larger than the national average for hill farms, but the size does vary considerably with the terrain. In the Cheviots, the average farm size is 1,205 hectares, while the average size of the Hadrian’s Wall farms is 293.

Information on Farming

Everything you need to know about Farming in Northumberland National Park.

More information

Half the farmed land is owned by four owners: Northumberland Estates, the Ministry of Defence, Lilburn Estates and College Valley Estates. There are also a number of smaller estates. As a result of this, many farms are worked by tenants, which is very different to much of the farmed land outside Northumberland. Often these tenancies have passed down through families for many generations.

One important tradition in Northumberland is that of a “hefted” flock, which is also referred to as a landlord’s flock, as it goes with a farm to the next tenant. Sheep “know” their territories on an open hill, without the need for fences. They also know the areas to go to shelter from extreme weather, where to get the best crop of grass at certain times of the year etc.

This instinct is passed on to lambs and young sheep between the generations. It is very difficult to re-heft a flock, as it requires very intensive shepherding and, in days when there are fewer shepherds than ever, this seems almost impossible. Therefore a hefted flock is very important to the landscape we know and love in the Park.

Farming and Rural Enterprise Team

Some people may think farming in a protected landscape would be restrictive and difficult, but ask farmers who do and they will tell you the opposite.

According to Northumberland National Park’s Farming Survey, farmers in the uplands often love the tranquillity and wildlife around their home and work. In the Park, they have a particularly beautiful location where high nature value farming is recognised as of utmost importance.

In 2006, Northumberland National Park Authority made a concerted effort to ensure farms in the Park could benefit from the Higher Level Stewardship scheme and it is proud that now 100% of the farmed area of the park is in environmental stewardship.

Rural businesses within the Park Action Area receive support from dedicated farming and rural enterprise officers who have in-depth knowledge and practical experience of farming, living and working in the rural uplands. Talk to them about help in entering into stewardship agreements, grant applications, projects development and for access to other agencies.

Above all, the Park is an advocate for farmers and land managers, representing them in dealing with organisations such as Natural England and Defra. This has been important in times of changing land management stewardship and for grant programmes such as those available through the Northumberland Uplands Local Development Plan.

For those interested to try new methods, there are also project opportunities not available elsewhere, such as satellite cow tracking; water quality techniques; moorland wildfire prevention, track erosion prevention and climate change adaptation.

To contact the Farming & Rural Enterprise Team, e-mail farming@nnpa.org.uk

High Nature Value Farming

High Nature Value (HNV) farming describes low intensity (or ‘extensive’) farming systems that are particularly valuable for wildlife, the wider environment and people.

This does not mean HNV farmland is low-maintenance – far from it. Managing sheep and cattle, pastures and meadows, and thousands of miles of drystone walls is labour and capital intensive, and requires high levels of skill and knowledge.

The farming calendar begins to build the complex picture of managing a farm in the uplands.

HNV farmland is dominated by semi-natural habitats, thanks to careful management by generations of hill farmers, including:

  • Blanket bog and heather moorland
  • Upland hay meadows
  • Upland calcareous grassland and limestone pavement

The positive management of such areas mean there are important species supported, including:

  • High populations of upland breeding waders, the iconic Curlew and Lapwing for example
  • Rare plants such as lesser butterfly orchid, montane eyebright, spring gentian and juniper
  • Butterflies like the Northern brown argus and its rarer cousin, the Durham argus

Natural Environment Vision

Northumberland National Park Authority has worked closely with our farmers to help develop a Natural Environment Vision, as it recognises the landscape is “managed in the main by human intervention including farmers and those living directly from the land”. Without cooperation from our farmers and land managers, the authority would not be able to realise this vision.

The vision was launched by Lord de Mauley, Minister for the Environment, at Winshields Farm on Hadrian’s Wall, an upland livestock farm on the World Heritage Site, managed by Iona Lawson and Bill Teasdale, who are just one of the farming families and partners who had an input into the authority’s new plan.

The Minister also met other farmers from around the park who had contributed to the vision, including Andrew Murray from Sewingshields and Neil Robson from Townshields (also on Hadrian’s Wall), and Sir Walter Riddle from Hepple Whitefield at Simonside near Rothbury in the Coquet Valley.

New Environment Land Management Scheme

NELMS will replace Environmental Stewardship, the English Woodland Grant Scheme and capital grants from Catchment Sensitive Farming in 2015.

This new scheme will deliver more than £900m to farmers throughout the programme.

Biodiversity and water quality will be the priorities for the new scheme, but it will deliver against historic environment, landscape quality/character, genetic conservation, educational access and climate change adaptation too.

NNPA has been involved in the data validation process for NELMS, ensuring farms within the Park are fairly represented in the new scheme.

This information is being collated and priority statements for each area are being developed.

NNPA will once again work with agencies to ensure these statements meet the requirements of our upland farmers.

Full details of the new scheme options and capital items are expected in Spring.

Grant Schemes

There will be grants available to the rural community, although details are scarce at the time of writing.

Grants will be available to improve upon farm and forestry productivity (similar to the Farm and Forestry Improvement Scheme that some businesses in the area have been successful in securing) which will also be available from next year.

Further funding will also be made available through the Local Enterprise Partnership and the Northumberland Uplands Leader project.

There is currently little information available on what this funding will cover, but it is likely calls for projects will be made in the new year.

*Please note that all applications for the new schemes will be online. If you see this as a problem for your business, please get in touch with one of the farming officers as we may be able to help

If you are a farmer and would like the advice and guidance from the farming team then please do not hesitate to get in touch – farming@nnpa.org.uk or call 01434 605555.

Wildfire Aware

Land managers and the fire service often use controlled burning as a positive management tool between 1st October and 15th April in upland Northumberland, following the Heather and Grass Burning Code.

Fire has been used as a land management tool for many thousands of years. When used with skill and understanding, it can benefit agriculture, game birds and conservation management.

It can also be used effectively to manage areas that are at risk of wildfire, for instance strategically located strips of burnt vegetation that will minimise the risk of spread should a wildfire occur.

It is important to remember that even though controlled burning is a management technique, there are times when wildfire risk can be high. The impact that uncontrolled wildfire events have on the landscape can be devastating to habitats, wildlife, grazing availability and the landscape.

It is therefore important to understand how to minimise the chance of accidental fire taking hold. Please don’t drop matches, cigarettes or glass and please don’t light fires or use barbecues near the moors. It is also important to be aware of the local fire severity index, and pay attention to local notices about fire. Check the Fire Severity Index before your visit.

Northumberland National Park Authority has been working closely with Northumberland Fire and Rescue Service and local land managers on numerous projects to minimise the chance and impact of wildfire situations. For instance, it has worked with local farmers and local retained firefighters to develop on-the-ground relationships and practical training.

Walking your Dog

The legal position of walking a dog is very complicated and more information can be found here. This section of the website highlights how important it is to upland farmers to ensure your dog is under control, preferably on a lead around livestock, throughout the year, but particularly during busy times of the year such as lambing and calving times.

Lambing time is important to upland farmers in Northumberland and minimising disturbance to ewes in-lamb, as well as those with lambs, is vital. It is important to remember that excessive disturbance to an in-lamb ewe can sometimes lead her to abort due to stress.

Lambing is the main harvest for the hill farmer. This one time of year influences, on average, two-thirds of the farm’s annual income. The farmer is doing everything possible to ensure the health and wellbeing of the stock, as well as maximise the potential return from his ewes.

Keeping your dog on a lead is also important to bird species, particularly wading species such as curlew, during the ground nesting bird season. The nesting season is weather dependant but usually takes place between April and July. Restrictions may be in place in some moorland areas during this time.

You can help minimise disturbance during important times by:

  • Keeping to tracks and paths as much as possible
  • Keeping your dog on a lead
  • If you see a mother separated from young, please walk around the area (trying to avoid the space between mother and young) and move away quickly. Do not try to help, as this often causes increased problems with both livestock and birds

It is also worth noting that some dog faeces can contain parasites that are harmful to farm stock, so please clean up after your dog when walking on agricultural land.