Young couple breathe new life into Lancashire farmland

Regional water firm, United Utilities, has let a ‘starter farm’ to a young couple planning to involve the local community in their new farming adventure.

Bradleys Farm, a 103 acre smallholding on the edge of Rivington Village, has been let to Arron Parker and his partner Gemma Coar. The Lancashire born couple have two small daughters and big plans to bring the community into their venture. They’re planning to organise walks and provide educational visits for the public on farming, conservation, ecology and water quality as the farm is located on land primarily used for water catchment. 

United Utilities’ land agent, Dan Fowler, explains: “We wanted to keep Bradleys Farm together which is why we decided to package the farm as an exciting opportunity that may be suitable for young farmers interested in a ‘starter farm’. 

“The farm sits within the West Pennine Moors Site of Special Scientific Interest and is included in the Higher Level Stewardship Scheme.

“We had more than 30 enquiries from all over the country with lots of interesting ideas as to how the farm could be run.

“We chose Gemma and Arron because they had relevant experience and knowledge, a sound business plan and lots of interesting new ideas and schemes that maintained the character of the property while at the same time protected the environment, including the wider catchment land,” he adds.

30 year-old Gemma, from Blackburn, and Arron, also 30, from Chorley, are both from farming backgrounds. Arron has worked as an agricultural fencing contractor since leaving school and has always had an interest in farming. Gemma was brought up on a dairy farm, which converted to beef and sheep around 10 years ago. She has an MSc in Conservation Management and worked as an assistant ecologist for a few years before having the couple’s two children, four-year-old Poppy, and Lucy, who is 18 months. 

Gemma comments: “We both worked closely alongside my parents at their family farm for many years but have always dreamed of managing our own family farm. 

“Bradleys Farm is a gateway site for the main Rivington reservoirs and copious associated walks. 

“An added aim of our management of the farm is to maintain and improve areas for visitors to enjoy.

“This is important in the Rivington area due to its significant visitor numbers. 

“As tenants, we have these goals at the forefront of our farming enterprise and land management proposals.

“This is our dream come true. We’re able to manage our own farm, close to family and friends, in the beautiful area of Rivington. 

“Our children can grow up in a wonderful place of open space and countryside and we have our lives ahead to plan, enjoy and grow,” she adds.

In February, Gemma and Arron plan to lamb 85 sheep (a mix of Mule and LLyen breeds) while rearing around 12 Aberdeen Angus breed calves for beef. For Christmas the couple plan to sell 50 farm reared, fresh Turkeys. 

Gemma adds: “Ultimately, we plan to increase the number of breeding ewes to 120, provided we’re able to build a new lambing facility.

“From an environmental perspective (with the support of Natural England) we aim to enter a Countryside Stewardship scheme in January 2022 which will both ecologically and financially benefit the farm for future return/reinvestment. 

“We’re also keen to provide public education in farming, conservation, general ecology, plus water quality/catchment input.

“Unfortunately, for now, this diversification venture has been placed on hold due to COVID-19 restrictions,” adds Gemma.

Both Gemma and Arron also hold down other jobs to supplement their farming income. Arron works full time as an agricultural fencing contractor, dedicating early mornings and late nights to the tending of livestock/farm duties while Gemma also works two days a week as a farm administrator at another local farm.

Dan Fowler adds: “The aim of this tenancy is to manage the land in an environmentally-sensitive way in order to maintain good water quality. 

“Around 70 per cent of our tenanted land is within a government environmental scheme and these tenancies are making an important contribution to this.” 

United Utilities has a long history of protecting and enhancing the water environment through managing the land with nature, wildlife and biodiversity enhancement as key drivers.. 

Dan added: “It’s great to see that there is so much interest in farms like Bradleys and I’m in the lucky position of being able to encourage new entrants in to farming and the agricultural sector.”