Friday, 27 August 2021

Dalesfolk: Neil Heseltine, farmer

"My dad grew up on Swinecote farm in Bishopdale. He used to walk three miles down the hill to school in Thoralby. His family moved to Malham in the 1950s when he was 17. In Malham they lived at Hill Top farm, which had been farmed by my mum’s side of the family, who were Hudsons. Hill Top has been in the family for quite some time now. I was born and bred here.

At fifteen I was driving a two wheel drive tractor up steep, slippery slopes, with the wind blowing through the open cab and my freezing hands gripping the wheel, thinking, “there must be better ways to earn a living than this”. Here I am, 35 years later, driving up the same hill.

I came back into full time farming after the foot and mouth epidemic in 2001. In 2003 we got our first “Belties”: we got nineteen Belted Galloway heifers and a bull as part of a conservation grazing scheme. We’re up to around 150 cattle now, and are Certified Suppliers of Pasture Beef. Environmentally friendly and sustainable farming has become very important to me.

I’ve been a Member of the Yorkshire Dales National Park for nearly five years. There are 25 of us in total. There are representatives from all the district and county councils, and some Secretary of State appointees, which is what I am. My job is to represent parishes in the south east of the Park. At the moment we’re doing a lot of work on the Future of Farming initiative.

I didn’t vote for Brexit, I didn’t want Brexit, and I still don’t want it to happen. Having said that, I have to think positively and hope that there might be some gains for agriculture as a result of Brexit. The expectation is that Brexit will mean fewer subsidies for farming communities, which might provide more opportunities for younger farmers, as the subsidies tend to reward simply owning land: if the subsidies disappear, then land prices and rents will come down, making it easier for younger farmers to get a foothold, and compete with existing farmers.

The Dales is a stunningly beautiful area, which you don’t always appreciate when you’re here, as much as we try to. However, the most important thing for me about this area is the sense of community. People here are very loyal to their community, and that feeling of belonging has been influential on my life.

People often think that the Yorkshire Dales is the Yorkshire Dales and it doesn’t change very much from area to area. There’s a book called Life and Tradition in the Yorkshire Dales by Marie Hartley and Joan Ingilby which shows different designs in different dales for things as simple as peat cutting tools, and different cooking and construction methods. Transport between the dales wasn’t as easy then as it is now, so you had less mixing.

The Dales is certainly going through a lot of changes. It’s true that it has become a popular place for people to retire to, but the last five or six people to move into Malhamdale were young people with jobs in places like Leeds and London, and commute to work. The reason they’ve come to the Dales is because they’ve got to the stage in life where they’ve got kids and a good job and they’re thinking that they want to live somewhere like this to bring up their kids, and a different kind of life from the city. That’s already happening organically, and maybe with a bit of effort we can increase it even more. It has already helped increase the diversity of the community. Some people might disagree, but these new people are “local” to me."

---

Neil Heseltine is a farmer at Hill Top in Malham. He and his partner Leigh run holiday accommodation. Neil is currently the chair of the Yorkshire Dales National Park authority.

This is an interview from my 2019 “Dalesfolk” book. For more information, go here: http://gullwingphotography.co.uk/dalesfolk/