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Could Malhamdale hold the future for EU farmers?
Friday, 08 November, 2002

Our country columnist John Sheard takes a look behind the scenes at the launch of this week's Limestone Country Project.

IT IS about as remote as you can get in the southern Dales, a lonely 67-acre farm at the end of a long and twisting drive out of Malham, climbing higher all the time as the road gets narrower, first to single track, then to virtually no track at all through one farm yard and onto New House farm, literally the end of the road.

    Roy Newhouse
Dales farmer Roy Newhouse with the Dexter Cattle
on his farm in the Malham Tarn Estate
Picture © Bruce Greer

When I drove this route on Tuesday, through mist as thick as thistledown, splashing through ruts flooded by overflowing becks, I thought that this was a very odd spot indeed top have attracted the attention of the politicians and bureaucrats in Brussels.

I was on my way to the launch of the Limestone Country Project, which turned out to be little more than half a dozen cattle in an old stone barn. But the importance of this tiny herd of Dexter beefs animals is hard to exaggerate.

As we reported in our news columns earlier this week, the Limestone Country Project (see Monday and Tuesday) is a pioneering attempt to find a new future for farming in the uplands by going back to the past. It is an experiment being watch with great interest in other national parks in Britain.

What is did not know was that the organisers - English Nature, the Yorkshire Dales National Park, the National Trust, owners of the farm, and other interested bodies - have already been invited to Brussels to explain the experiment to the officials and politicians who run the European Union's confused and controversial Common Agricultural Policy.

Dr Paul Evans, the English Nature representative in the Dales, told me: "They are very intrigued by this experiment in Brussels and have asked us to go over and make a presentation, explaining what we are doing and what we hope to achieve.

"Obviously, this is a very small beginning but if we achieve the results we are hoping for, we might have a significant influence on the future direction of European farming."

That seems to be asking a lot of Roy and Irene Newhouse, the aptly named couple who will be running the tiny farm for the next five years with, eventually, 10 of the hardy Dexter calves and between 30 and 40 sheep.

Roy, who already has a full time job as a building coordinator with the National Trust, explained: "We hope to prove that by mixed farming in this remote spot, the farm can be made a viable business which is also beneficial to the landscape and wildlife. It might be a very small farm - but, hopefully, it is going to be a very important one."

I wished them luck and disappeared once more into the mist. After all the misery created over the years by the combined efforts of the EU, CAP and MAFF, it would be a triumph if 60-odd limestone acres could lead European farming out of the shambles!

Farmers in three target areas of the Dales - Malham, Ingleborough and Arncliffe - are invited to join the Limestone Country Project. Grants of between £10,000 and £20,000 may be available to meet re-stocking and conversion costs over the first five years. For more details, ring the Limestone Country Project Officer on 01756- 752748.

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