Skip to main content
Liz Sutcliffe by Arkle Beck where alder trees are growing

Arkengarthdale sees ‘great example’ of nature conservation

Tuesday 1 November, 2022, by News Release

A low key but novel ‘re-naturing’ enterprise is gathering pace in Arkengarthdale in the north east of the Yorkshire Dales National Park.

Fencing and a forestry track are currently being installed to allow for the planting of a large native broadleaved woodland on the brant fellside beneath Fremington Edge.*

Also taking place at Heggs Farm are youth engagement activities, seasonal volunteer days, natural flood management works, eco-systems research and hay meadow restoration.

Managing the enterprise is Liz Sutcliffe, who is originally from Newcastle.  Nearly four years ago she spent all she had to buy off-grid Heggs House and its 136 acres (see Q&A below – ‘In her own words’).

She has since formed a cluster with neighbours to work collaboratively on nature conservation, drawing on support from the Government-funded Grow Back Greener programme and the Tees-Swale: naturally connected programme, which is funded by The National Lottery Heritage Fund.**

The 74 acres (30 hectares) of woodland will be created by planting 25,000 trees on Heggs Farm and neighbouring Castle Farm this winter.  The woodland will be publicly accessible.  It is hoped the woodland will help alleviate flooding by reducing the speed of rainfall runoff and consolidating the soil; Arkengarthdale suffered badly from flash floods in July 2019.

A woodland will be planted on this fellside this winter

At the moment more than three kilometres of fencing is being installed to minimise the pressure of rabbits on the woodland.  Meanwhile three lorry loads of stakes and guards are due to arrive this week.  Several hundred compostable tree guards will be trialled to see whether they can work as well as plastic guards.

Member Champion for the Natural Environment at the Yorkshire Dales National Park Authority, Mark Corner said: “We are very pleased to be supporting the Heggs-Castle cluster the ‘Grow Back Greener’ woodland creation programme and ‘Tees-Swale: naturally connected’.  Here is a great example of how National Lottery cash and other public money is supporting local people to address the ‘nature emergency’.”

In Her Own Words – Liz Sutcliffe, speaking at Heggs Farm, Arkengarthdale

Liz Sutcliffe with Heggs Farm in the background
Liz Sutcliffe with Heggs Farm in the background

Q. What is the story?

“Heggs is a re-naturing project and by that I mean it’s a nature-led restoration attempt.  Heggs has 136 acres. Together with my two neighbours we’re 200 acres and that goes from the banks of the Arkle Beck up to the horizon which is the top of Fremington Edge and the moor line wall there.

“We have the good fortune to be managing this land now, three separate landowners all with a similar intention to increase biodiversity; restore natural processes where they might have been lost; and reintroduce a balance in eco systems. One of the best ways to do that is work with partners who are experts in their various fields and have the funding to help make things happen on the ground.

“Our big project is planting 30 hectares of new broadleaved woodland. We’re trying to do this as naturally as possible.  Hopefully in the next twenty or thirty years we will have a very natural, open woodland develop with scrub around the edges and the very top – and that will join existing woodland corridors which exist on either side of our planting site.

“As a cluster we envisage restoring the remainder of the site to the wood pasture.”

Q. How would you describe Heggs?

“Heggs is a little pocket of biodiversity within quite a stylised farming area.  Heggs for whatever reason has been allowed to wild of its own accord.  So you’ve got a lot of pockets of woodland; you’ve got the beck itself with all its intricate braids creating little island networks; you’ve got old tree lines and bits of wood pasture; bits of scrub winding up the hillside; a lot of secret shelter spots hidden behind crumbling stone walls; and wherever you get a vantage point you have amazing views up and down dale and they won’t be obscured.  And there’s such a lot of birdsong.”

Q.  Are you taking land out of food production?

“When Heggs was for sale the common thought among people who are farming – and farming profitably – was ‘who would want that?’ It’s not at all productive farmland. 

“My first desire in owning some land was to be able to have a market garden and I just quickly realised that Heggs wasn’t suitable.  It’s isolated, the terrain’s difficult, there’s a lot of bracken.

“In fact the only place that would be suitable is the meadow – and that should be a meadow. It needs to be continued to be grazed, so that the wildflowers can then flourish in spring.

“This is marginal land and I am all for ‘right tree, right place’ – not ‘tree anywhere’.  Heggs is not the place to farm herds of cattle or flocks of sheep in any great number that would sustain you as a farming business.  This is the perfect place to be a nature conservation site, for want of a better description.

Q. What would you describe yourself as?

“‘Caretaker for Heggs’ because a lot of the things that I get done on the ground are with the help of people, whether that’s organisations, teams of volunteers, my neighbours, or neighbouring farmers.  We’ve been able to get works on the ground done through ‘Tees-Swale: naturally connected’ and the big woodland planting with the Woodland Trust’s ‘Grow Back Greener’, and I’m grateful for that.

“The name ‘landowner’ sort of segregates you.  That’s not doing anything. So I like the word caretaker, and also it reminds me that it’s a period of time where Heggs is under my care and I’ve got to think beyond that about what I can leave, especially now for my daughter.  How can I leave it in a more flourishing state for her?  How can I contribute more value, during my lifetime? 

“I have put absolutely everything I had into purchasing Heggs and the land. Am I going to be able to make a livelihood around here?  What is the business side going to look like?  That is what I am trying to figure out.”

Q.  Thank you for sharing what’s going on here.

“One of the key things for me and the partners I’m working with is community involvement and inviting local people in to what we are doing. Otherwise it’s just us on our own doing stuff in isolation and it’s not really going to have that butterfly effect that we are hoping it will have eventually. 

“I’ve had some of the most enriching conversations and exchanges with people who have lived here for generations and just have a deep love for where they live.  And also with people who have a different kind of love because of being drawn here. There’s a lot of creative people.  A lot of artists, a lot of musicians and a lot of people who are drawn here by the love of nature.”

*brant is a local word meaning ‘very steep’

**In addition to the funding from The National Lottery Heritage Fund, support for Tees-Swale: naturally connected is coming from local partner organisations including Richmondshire District Council, Yorkshire Water and Yorkshire Dales Millennium Trust.    

Picture of News Release

News Release

Yorkshire Dales National Park Authority


Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *