When Chris and Fiona Clark bought the 380 acre Nethergill Farm at Oughtershaw at the head of Wharfdale in 2005, they had a vision of creating a special place where visitors could understand the link between food, farming and conservation.
Today, years of hard work later, they have come a long way towards reaching that goal. They have plenty of visitors (the Dales Way runs almost past the door) staying either for bed and breakfast in two rooms in the farmhouse or self-catering in a recently converted hayloft.
Their mission to explain passed a key milestone in March 2013 when they opened a Field Centre within the farm buildings. Complete with live feeds from cameras trained on the wildlife and the headwaters of the river, microscopes and written information, this is an education centre in an extraordinary setting.
"It has attracted a lot of interest with groups of people from schools in Yorkshire and elsewhere. We have had visitors from the University of Reading and even Pennsylvania. It has also been used for meetings by Natural England and NatWest and the Yorkshire Dales National Park launched their management report here. All visitors are given a farm tour so we can explain what we do here," says Fiona.
There have been "wild workshops" run in partnership with the Yorkshire Dales Wildlife Trust, one-day events on subjects such as wild flowers, the river, peat and photography.
Experience that deepens understanding
"We tell visitors that reading and listening deepens your knowledge but that practical experience here deepens your understanding," comments Chris.
Practical experience is certainly high on the agenda. A group of teenagers from West Yorkshire, who had been involved with the criminal justice system, came to Nethergill to create two bird hides using recycled plastic bags. "They were just blown away by the location," says Chris. Other activities have included willow bundling, a project to avoid river bank erosion carried out in conjunction with the Yorkshire Rivers Trust.
Conservation moves boost biodiversity
Conservation is also well up the agenda too. Fiona and Chris have been working with the National Parks and the Forestry Commission to plant 18,000 trees. This has boosted the biodiversity of the area so much that Black Grouse have returned to the area after 40 years. The planting area is also close to Greenfield Forest, a designated reserve for red squirrels.
On the farm itself, they have introduced rare breeds including White Shorthorn cattle. They have seven females out of only 216 in the world. Meat from their cattle and their flock of sheep is used in casseroles, a zero-food miles culinary treat for visitors. Homemade bread and cakes and eggs from the finest of free range chickens on the farm plus home grown vegetables are all part of the self-sufficency story at Nethergill.
Self-sufficiency in virtually everything
Self-sufficiency is a reoccurring theme at the farm where a 75kw biomass burner provides all the heating and hot water. The boiler, which cost £17,500, and which burns timber felled from no more than 10 miles away, was installed in March 2013 and is expected to cut heating bills by £3,000 a year.
In addition, there are five log burning stoves fed by timber felled in Greenfield Forest some of which is dragged to the farm by a working Dales Pony, Bracken, a traditional farming practice known as "sniggling."
As Nethergill moves increasingly to self-sufficiency in virtually everything apart from fuel for vehicles, its story becomes even more fascinating to visitors. "We hope to both educate and to inspire people when they come here and that is what many of them tell us we have done," says Fiona.Contact Chris and Fiona Clark on 01756 761126 or visitwww.nethergill.co.uk