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.
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.