Young farmers inject new life into Peak District land

Two young farmers are breathing new life into the Peak District.

Regional water firm, United Utilities, has let large parcels of land in the Goyt Valley and High Peak to 29-year-old Sam Bolton and 24-year-old Alistair Bland.

The water firm’s estates and land manager, Ross Evans, says it is trying to encourage new young entrants to the agricultural land sector to drive the future of the industry.

Sam, who hails from Macclesfield, has been a tenant of United Utilities for five years and has recently taken on 1,000 hectares of land in the Goyt Valley for his ever-expanding flock of Mule and Swaledale sheep.

This part of the valley hasn’t been grazed for 20 years and United Utilities is hoping Sam’s flock will improve habitat management and reduce the risk of wildfire. 

 “I like traditional sheep farming,” explains Sam, who got his first six sheep for his 16th birthday and in the intervening years has grown his flock to total 1200. 

“It’s a big commitment, there are no short cuts with shepherding.

“You’re out there in all weathers and there’s always something to do,” he adds.

Sam’s next big task is scanning his flock to see how many lambs he can expect in the spring. He has two border collies – Roy and Rascal – who he says are essential to help him manage his flock on steep banks and rough ground.

Alistair Bland, the 24-year-old son of one of the water firm’s tenant farmers, has also recently taken on the management of a large holding owned by United Utilities. 

In 2019, Alistair took charge of 70 acres of United Utilities land where he keeps 250 Cheviot Mule and North of England Mule ewes. 

In his new position as farm manager of a 4500 acre hill farm at Crowden in High Peak he will be primarily breeding Swaledale draft ewes and mule ewe lambs.

“I enjoy working outside and could never see myself working in an office,” explains Alistair who grew up on the family farm and knew from a young age that he wanted to work with livestock.

“After A-levels I did a degree in Agriculture with Animal Science at Harper Adams University then spent six months working on beef and sheep farms in New Zealand after graduating.

“Sheep farming can be a difficult industry to get into but I’ve been lucky to have received a lot of support from family and friends,” he adds.

Ross Evans says the aim of these tenancies 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,” says Ross.

“On these particular land holdings, our tenants are involved in tackling important climate change measures through their active land management,” he adds.

The reintroduction of grazing on certain sites and wider habitat management is also expected to encourage breeding birds and rare species back to the area such as curlews, redshanks and oystercatchers.

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.