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An Up Dale farming education

​Just a fifteen minute drive Up Dale from River View Pateley, Middlesmoor is a world away. Looking down the valley at Gouthwaite and the rolling hills is breathtakingly beautiful. Turn around and the eyes can drink in the apparent wilderness of the kind of moorland that inspires great literature.

Working the land up there is just as breathtaking as the views, although for different reasons. We soon found out what "hill farming" actually means, as we trudged up the rugged landscape where the hardy livestock breeds do best.

Farming is little changed here over the past hundred years, according to the local landowner who gave this particular talk for the Moorland Festival, organised by the Upper Nidderdale Landscape Partnership.

This part of the country has been shielded by the more industrial approaches of crop growing areas, thanks in part to the fact that food crops do not do well up here. The only thing to grow really well up is sheep.

Cows graze but in much fewer numbers than in the lowlands, and they have to spend half their lives indoors. Grouse and pheasant do well on the managed moorland, but do not go into the retail food chain.

Shooting has been a part of the economy for generations, and if you turn away from the group of visitors, it is easy to visualize the ghosts of Victorian hunters past, marching over the heather in tweed and leather boots.

But if some aspects of life are timeless, one thing is forcing change at an alarming rate. Climate change has already erased the winters up here, transforming grass to reedy bogs and creating yet more work for those who manage the land.

There is no road through the end of the dale, and the landscape feels untouched. Our host opines he likes not seeing people, houses and infrastructure. With the major threat up here man made, you can see his point.

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