We report on two recent tenants to find out how they have fared a year in to their tenancies.
Our first young farmer, who won a £1 a year National Trust tenancy in north Wales, manages a flock of 400-plus sheep and our second established his own Swaledale flock on a Yorkshire Water tenancy in North Yorkshire .
See also: Tips on getting tenancy succession right
Dan Jones, Y Parc Farm
When Dan Jones first took on the £1 a year tenancy of the iconic Y Parc Farm on the Great Orme farm, he suggested his flexible and easy-going personality would be key to making a success of his new role.
Add to that list “resourceful”, “patient” and a “good communicator” and it goes some way to explaining how he has breezed through a year peppered with challenges and surprises.
His brief was to fine-tune conservation grazing to protect and encourage populations of the silver-studded blue butterfly and the foraging chough to establish on the Great Orme.
In this endeavour, his accomplices have been a flock of 416 Lleyn and Herdwick ewes plus followers, provided by the conservation charity, Plantlife.
But with no physical barriers separating the grazing from the rest of the world, training the sheep to stay put has taken up a lot of time.
Part of Mr Jones’ job is to re-heft sheep on to the Great Orme but, as he has discovered, that learned behaviour takes time.
“A lot of my time has been spent dealing with stray sheep. On one occasion, some of them found their way on to a golf course two villages away just as a competition was about to start,” he says, wincing as he recalls the reaction of the greenkeeper.
Mr Jones has a list of the persistent straying offenders in his flock and a strategy for dealing with them. “We bring them into the walls of the farm and, if they have taken their ewe lambs to places where they are not meant to be, we don’t keep those lambs as they will wander too.”
The initial plan was to identify target areas that needed grazing to improve the environment, but it soon became clear that a wider approach was required.
“The whole of the Orme is overgrown and we decided in the first year that it all needed to be grazed,” Mr Jones explains.
Although there are as yet no botanical and ecological surveys to establish how this has benefitted nature, Mr Jones says there is an obvious physical difference in the areas where sheep like to graze.
His team of Border collies are Mr Jones’ partners in managing the sheep, but he came close to losing one dog in July, a two-year-old called Tian.
“A big ewe barged past him when we were gathering the sheep in for shearing and knocked him off the cliff,” Mr Jones recalls.
Tian fell 50ft and when he landed in the water he started swimming out to sea.
Ever obedient to his master’s voice, he was coaxed back towards the cliff and clambered on to a ledge, but Mr Jones was unable to reach him.
Fortunately, a local climber friend of Mr Jones’, who happened to be working nearby, scaled down the cliff to rescue the stranded dog.
Forging links with the local community and the wider public is also part and parcel of the job at Y Parc farm. The Great Orme is visited by 800,000 visitors a year so it is important for Mr Jones to engage with the public.
The majority are very respectful of Mr Jones’ farming activities, but there have been some upsetting incidents of dogs worrying sheep.
“We have had three dog attacks. We haven’t lost any sheep, but they have been injured and stressed. We haven’t been able to prosecute because we haven’t caught anyone,” says Mr Jones.
One approach has been to educate owners about the need to keep dogs on leads around livestock.
In conjunction with the National Trust, a Dog Awareness Day was held at the farm. “Unfortunately, it was only the responsible dog walkers that came along, but it was a good opportunity to get to know them. They are like our extra shepherds, another pair of eyes.”
When Mr Jones and his wife, Ceri, first moved to Y Parc with their son, Efan, they contemplated diversifying into tourism with shepherd’s hut-style accommodation.
Storm Doris forced a rethink. “We are now looking at pods and hope to have something in place by next summer,” says Mr Jones.
The relationship Mr Jones has with the National Trust has been very positive and when he says they have been “absolutely fantastic” as a landlord, he really does mean it.
“They have been supportive of everything I have wanted to do. They have been not at all demanding of me, although I haven’t said no to anything.
“It feels very much like we are working towards the same goals, not working against each other.”
There will soon be a meeting involving all the partners in the conservation project, including Plantlife, the RSPB and the local authority, to review progress made in the first year and to plan the next 12 months.
Jonathon Grayshon, Humberstone Bank Farm
Sheep farmer Jonathan Grayshon, 29, from Dacre, Nidderdale, saw off 22 other applicants to manage Yorkshire Water’s Humberstone Bank Farm, near Blubberhouses. He took on the tenancy at the end of last September.
“It was quite an undertaking because it is a big farm,” Mr Grayshon told Farmers Weekly . “There needed to be some work done on the farmhouse and you always underestimate how much time things take, but we’ve made good progress.”
Mr Grayshon said he knew there was a lot of fencing and walling to do when he arrived. But he has also bred his own replacement gimmers and says he now has the building blocks for his own Swaledale flock.
“The sheep we have now will be the foundations for at least the next 15 years, which is how long the tenancy is.
“We have about 400 ewes and now we want to start fine-tuning everything – to improve the breeding side of things.”
Further income will come from a holiday cottage, which is due to be let from 2018. He has also secured wildlife diversification funding to dig a pond. Both projects would have started this year but were delayed by paperwork and permissions.
“We have just got the go-ahead for a 3ha woodland creation grant which we will be getting stuck into as well. The paperwork and grants have taken time, but it will be worth it.”