Hill Farming in the Cumbrian uplands – a living culture and the challenge of finding balance between livestock and biodiversity

"The well-crafted photographic images from Rob, along with the perfectly penned poetry and prose from Harriet capture a moment in history. Nothing like this exists from the past and all of the farmers, shepherds and indeed land keepers, see it as the first time their culture, heritage and general way of life has been highlighted. The Lakes poets chronicled some of the rural activities but this project sets a base line for the future not only in words but also in pictures.” -Will Rawling, Chair, Farmer Network

Land Keepers gave us a rare and privileged opportunity to spend time with hill farmers in the Lake District, many of whom are from families that have been part of this landscape for many generations. The most memorable and satisfying element for us has been gathering sheep, in their hundreds, from the fells, but Land Keepers involved much more than this and we have been around in rain, snow and blazing heat, for shearing, inspecting, showing, selling and the final process, slaughter. We have also interviewed people whose work focuses on ecological conservation, the provision of clean water and biodiverse habitats, tree planting and land management. This allowed us to see many different sides to a unique part of the UK – the largest area of common land in the west of Europe.

Following almost three years of planning and research, the Land Keepers exhibition launched at the Wordsworth Museum in 2014, where it was seen by more than ten thousand people. The exhibition toured, with its final showing at the Royal Geographical Society (with IBG) in London. Images, poetry and prose pieces are still available to view on the website, and are occasionally shown as part of larger exhibitions (such as the Mountain Arts Festival in Penrith, 2015).

As with a lot of our work, we became drawn in to Land Keepers. Many of the people we met, walked with and worked alongside have become our friends, and we still make time to attend shows and sales, and give a hand where we can. Our interest continues and we do our best to stay abreast of issues that have an impact on farming – from market fluctuations that affect income to environmental stipulations that call for alterations in stock numbers. There is a fine balance and the elements are constantly changing. 
Harriet has continued to write about upland farming through postgraduate study with the University of Glasgow, where she is part way through her MPhil. She’s focusing on an exploration of what it means to be a living ‘cultural landscape’ and developing a collection of poems, some of which take a far from traditional approach (see wandering words).

Keeping land and livestock

Land keepers hints at a rich story, so often not apparent to the casual observer of the magnificent landscape that is the Lake District National Park.
Richard Leafe, CEO Lake District National Park Authority

We did have a website for the Land Keepers project but it has fallen out of date and out of use. We will instead update this page with some more images and, over time, attach a collection of articles. 

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