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‘Swaledale Farmer’ podcast on sheep and nature

Hill farmers and people interested in land management are being urged to tune in to ‘Swaledale Farmer’, a new series of the Voices From The Dales podcast published by the Dales Countryside Museum in Hawes.

Six, 15-minute episodes feature Swaledale sheep breeders: Christine Clarkson from Muker, Sue and Ray Ridley from Kexwith near Marske, and Michael Watson from Harwood in Upper Teesdale.

The chief subjects are Swaledale sheep breeding and farming with nature, with elements of oral history – as well as the sounds of Swaledale and Teesdale – woven in.

Series Three of Voices From The Dales, Swaledale Farmer, has been produced by journalist Andrew Fagg, from Hawes, with the support of the Tees-Swale: Naturally Connected programme.

Professor Sir John Lawton, who chairs the Tees-Swale: Naturally Connected programme board, said: “‘Swaledale Farmer’ gives a voice to the farmers of Swaledale and Teesdale. We are working with farmers to share knowledge and skills, at a time when we need to make England’s wildlife and ecological network bigger, better and more joined up.

“I would warmly invite hill farmers across the Yorkshire Dales and North Pennines, as well as all those interested in land management in the uplands, to tune in to this fascinating podcast series.”

Largely funded by The National Lottery Heritage Fund, the Tees-Swale programme is led by the North Pennines National Landscape team and the Yorkshire Dales National Park Authority, working with farmers and land managers to enhance and connect habitats in these special landscapes for the benefit of wildlife and local communities.

Each episode of Series Three of Voices From The Dales, ‘Swaledale Farmer’, takes its title from a direct quote from the farmer contributors, while descriptions reveal the highlights of each episode:

Episode 1 – ‘Deep Black’ (Christine Clarkson part 1). Champion Swaledale sheep breeder Christine checks on tup Mo. She shares the story of her farming career and her thoughts on the direction of the Swaledale breed, as well as a conversation between tourists overheard in Muker’s famous meadows.

Episode 2 – ‘Eager To Learn’ (Christine Clarkson part 2). Christine speaks about wildflower identification, hay meadow management and peat depth testing. She reveals how the authorities once regarded Kisdon hill top as being of insufficient environmental interest to warrant stewardship payments, and closes with stirring advocacy of the importance of local communities.

Episode 3 – ‘So Much Grass’ (Sue Ridley). Sue describes the unique location of Kexwith Farm in lower Swaledale, with its moorland rights for sheep. She humorously rejects the title of ‘farmer’s wife’, tells the story of the revival of a remnant of ancient woodland, and reveals how engagement with stewardship schemes has led to healthier stock and more grass.

Episode 4 – ‘Side By Side’ (Ray Ridley). As Ray gives his beloved White Park cattle a scratch in a rain-battered shed, he reveals how Swaledale sheep numbers have come down over the years as stewardship schemes have come in. He describes how lapwings and sheep ‘look out for each other’, how ‘scrapes’ have been dug to provide habitat for the birds, and how he grew up on the farm wondering at the abundance of wildlife.

Episode 5 – ‘Maar Rain No Hay’ (Michael Watson part 1). Michael fothers the sheep in a high allotment. He paints a picture of the scene in Upper Teesdale, and describes how much the stock means to him. The talk turns to the changing climate and Michael reveals that 2023 was the first time no hay was made at Stoney Hill.

Episode 6 – ‘A Big Part’ (Michael Watson part 2 and Rachel Watson) Michael shares his knowledge of bird life on the farm, stressing that there is as much wildlife about as there ever was. He describes how the farm business is dealing with the government’s major change to farm payments. Michael shares his views on the Swaledale breed while looking over his gimmer hoggs, and there’s a cameo from daughter Rachel who describes her attraction to a career in hill farming.

‘Swaledale Farmer’ is available from podcast apps such as Apple Podcasts, or Spotify, and is also available to listen at Buzzsprout or the Dales Countryside Museum website.

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