About Usha Gap Farm
The Metcalfe family having been farming Usha Gap farm for over 70 years, but have farmed in the dales for centuries.
Mainly farming Swaledale sheep and beef cows, and gave up milking cows 15 years ago.
Here is an article that was published in The Yorkshire Dales National Park Authority Dales Paper, Spring 2013.
Hill farmers Tom Metcalfe and his son Philip have worked hard to conserve the countryside around their Swaledale home.
The 260 hectares they farm at Usha Gap, near Muker, covers some of the most stunning landscape in the Dales. They also have grazing rights for the sheep on the moor tops at Muker and Ivelet, both of which are in Sites of Special Scientific Interest.
The family has been farming in Swaledale for generations, raising flocks of pure Swaledale sheep. Philip’s grandfather moved to Usha Gap in the 1930s and the family now also has a herd of Limousin Cross sucklers for beef, along with a campsite and a holiday home.
Thanks to the father-and-son team, miles of drystone walls have been repaired, a good cluster of barns are still standing that would otherwise be roofless shells, and some vital meadows are in tip top condition.
The incentive to do that little bit more came in the form of the Government’s Environmentally Sensitive Areas (ESA) Scheme – a package of agri-environment projects now celebrating its 25th birthday.
The Pennine Dales ESA was one of the first to be introduced in 1987 and Tom signed up as soon as he could.
The aim of the scheme was to offer incentives to farmers to adopt agricultural practices that would safeguard and enhance parts of the country of particularly high landscape, wildlife or historic value.
Philip, 40, said the decision to join was easy.
Hill farms are the worst pieces of land in terms of quality
We were farming traditionally and it was a case of either going into the ESA or intensive farming to compete with other people.
We didn’t want to intensify because it would have meant spraying the fields and using lots of nitrogen, which would have wiped out the hay meadows almost overnight. And once the land has been fertilised heavily and re-seeded you can’t go back.
Most people keep their boundary walls up and the internal ones fall into disrepair because it’s uneconomic to look after them. And it’s the same with the little barns – we have about 30 but we only use six or seven of them.
The ESA grants have paid for the walls and the barns to be repaired so they are in good condition and remain part of the landscape. That in turn encourages tourists to come in –the top end of Swaledale is unique and it has been preserved like this.
He and Tom, who is 70, are now going into the Higher Level Stewardship of the new Environmental Stewardship scheme and will be starting work fencing off some gills to allow plant life to regenerate.
The knock-on effect of having the ESA money is that it helps the local economy – farmers are big spenders if they have the money and they buy locally and employ local people to do the work Philip said.
He is hoping his sons Ben, 12, and 10-year-old James will follow in the family’s footsteps.
The young one’s keen enough although the older boy isn’t yet but you never know – times can change.