Daughter of a Hill Farmer Speaks

I write this quite first hand as the daughter of a hill farmer in the Rossendale Valley. We farm an upland flock of predominantly Swaledale ewes with a smaller flock of Lonks, Cheviots and a few Texel sheep. My family have farmed the same farm and moorland for generations and it is now facing hugely unprecedented times and is under a threat of no longer being home to grazing livestock at all. The biggest issue our uplands face is it is treated as a playground for grown men to travel to, along with their motocross, enduro bikes, 4×4’s and friends. They spend their days and evenings shredding our poor moorland to pieces. This problem has grown in popularity over the last 10 or so years and the increase in mainly adult men using our moorland to exercise their motocross bikes has now reached an overwhelming statistic. Groups of up to 20 bikes have been sighted and photographed. The mess and devastation they are creating is totally beyond belief. It is actually illegal to use these moorlands for these purposes and the landowners and graziers have been plagued with this activity 365 days a year, the riders of bikes and drivers of 4×4’s have no permission to be there in the first place. Our moorland is home to several species of birds including Twite, Curlews & Lapwings. Along with birds of prey such as Buzzards and Kestrels. Not to mention several farmers flocks of sheep and herds of cattle; all of which are threatened with these devastating effects. I can talk in depth of scenarios where our ewes have become trapped in motorbike ruts, bogged up to their necks in a peaty soup. Only if they are lucky, they are stumbled across in time by their shepherd or a kind rambler who helps them out of their black, wet grave. Other examples I have are lambs only hours old separated from their mothers and completely lost- orphaned. Only the lucky lambs who are heard crying for their mothers are found, yet again by their shepherd or a kind rambler. The unlucky ones look death in the eye as the cold causes hypothermia and their body shuts down. They’re then the prey of crows who fly above eagerly awaiting their slow demise. Only if the lamb is lucky enough to die before the crows attack it; some lambs have been attacked alive, where their tongues and eyes are pecked out, making a tasty meal for the crow and a very slow, painful death for the newborn lamb. Yet again I do have more examples of injuries caused to sheep, one case being a ewe who was hit by an off-road bike. She was heavy in lamb at the time and her pelvis was mush; completely shattered.The ewe went into an early labour and as her shepherd pulled her lamb from her battered and bruised body it was only then the sheer speed and force she was hit at was realised. Her newborn lamb, only seconds old had two broken front legs. These injuries could only be explained by her being hit by the biker who didn’t even have the respect to stop. Both mother and lamb were put down to end their suffering. Other farmers on our moorland have had their cattle “rounded up” in a game by the bikers. One particular calf, only days old ended up with a broken leg. But after much treatment and encouragement it healed and the calf grew. Again, even with a positive ending, this shouldn’t have occurred in the first place. Contrary to popular belief these hills are not “wasteland” which no one owns nor cares for. They are home to some of the most environmentally friendly beef and lamb for generations, reared on land which cannot support any other kind of agriculture or serve any other productive purpose. These Peatlands are stores of carbon, removing CO2 from the atmosphere and storing it in the Peat. These environments are the UK’s largest store of carbon. The carbon stored in UK peatlands is equivalent to 8 years of total UK carbon emissions. Therefore, it is hugely important to preserve these carbon sinks. The ruts these bikes create speed up the flow of water from the hills to the valley bottoms causing erosion and in some cases flooding. The erosion of blanket bogs and peat haggs which store huge amounts of dissolved carbon inside them are known to affect the water quality and increase the costs of water treatment from our local reservoirs. By improving the moorland landscape, making sure the vegetation on open peat bogs is there, we can prevent flooding in below villages as the vegetation slows down the water. It’s only now that I have felt that the future of hill farming is very bleak. The land we have been custodians of for generations is torn apart, the peat which stored carbon can no longer do its job properly. Our villages in the valley bottoms now flood due to an increase in water which the peat can no longer store. What a sad and sorry future our local area has ahead of it. Things need to change.

Beth Holt
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