Taking a Lancashire farm to the city
Farmer John Alpe surveys his land and acknowledges he is privileged. He farms in what must be one of the most beautiful locations in the county.
But though his sheep and land stewardship work are his top priorities at New Laund Farm in Lancashire’s Bowland AONB (Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty), he also has an abiding passion – taking the farm to the city.
He has given talks to school pupils from Preston and London, sharing his knowledge and insights about food production and farming and says: “We are in a rather remote area...So we decided we would go to them. The more inner city it is, I like it. The children have really good questions.”
His Duchy of Lancaster farm, which overlooks the Inn at Whitewell, rises from the banks of the River Hodder to moorland fells.
It is now firmly on the map for being a centre for summer farm visits for all age groups, including school pupils, the disabled and those with special needs.
Visitors are particularly welcomed for farm tours during the Bowland Festival and tours with a Tramper, an all terrain electric wheelchair, can be booked.
John is also a keen after- dinner speaker. He takes satisfaction in sharing his knowledge and showcasing conservation work ranging from improving the habitat for ground nesting birds such as lapwings, curlews and oyster catchers to enabling wild flowers in species-rich grassland to prosper and allowing heather to regenerate on upland by avoiding overgrazing.
He notes: “We’re growing harebells, orchids, primroses, ragged robin, that type of flowers. We want to make it work - it pleases me if our wild flower numbers are increasing or our woodland regeneration is increasing.
“It’s a small strand of stewardship. If we can increase and enhance wildlife why not?”
John, who farms organically with son Daniel, wife Rachel, his mother Jean, and a small team of part-time workers, explains how the outreach work first began and how their farm has expanded over the years: “In 1998 agriculture was having a really hard time because of BSE and also there was a currency problem if I remember rightly … we had to rethink what we were doing and look at all the options.”
He lists these as sweat the assets, sell up or look at the environmental options, where funding was becoming available for stewardship schemes. They chose the environmental route.
John’s parents took over the 200-acre New Laund Farm in 1960, but the family now farms nearly 1,000 acres.
They had bought a 90-acre neighbouring farm in 1994, then managed nearby Dinkling Green Farm for two years for Lancashire’s Myerscough College, before taking over its 420 acres as tenants and in 2011 they took on a fourth farm.
Higher Fence Wood provided an extra 270 acres. The land offers a range of different habitats running from river level to 1,500 ft at the top of Totridge Fell.
He said: “New Laund is the main farm but we open them all to the public. ”
The visits are offered mainly in summer in the evenings to minimise disruption to farm work. He said: “The land is farmed organically and we keep about 1,000 breeding ewes, 100 head of cattle, of which 40 are dairy cows, 40 young stock and 20 beef cattle.
“We are heavily involved in countryside stewardship. It’s sheep, environment, dairy and beef cattle in that order.”
The stewardship initiative, launched in 2001 and renewed in 2011, and their commitment to providing educational access has certainly broadened their horizons. While in an unexpected twist of fate New Laund has also welcomed not only agricultural students, but archaeological ones too, with a team from UCLan uncovering astonishing evidence of prehistoric activity from Late Mesolithic times.
He pays tribute to Natural England, the Bowland (AONB) Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty and FACE team for helping the farm develop its conservation and educational access work.
To inquire about a visit contact Farming and Countryside Education contact Katy Pallas on 07743028289,
• There is never a quiet moment for John Alpe . Here he guides us through a year in the life of his bustling farm:
January/February: Sheep will be fed on hay as the grass dies back throughout the winter months.
By the end of this month scanning of breeding ewes will start to establish whether they are carrying a single lamb, twins, triplets or are barren and feeding arrangements will be adjusted accordingly.
Cattle are vaccinated and cows are scanned for calves. Sheep will be given copper pills to prevent deficiencies which can cause spinal problems in lambs and fluke drenches will be administered to prevent liver
March: Lambing starts. Throughout the winter work has continued on farm maintenance, with repair of fences and removal of fallen trees.
April: The main lambing season is now well under way. It’s also time to cover the land in manure.
May: It’s time to begin to let the cattle back out to pasture. All the lambs are marked and vaccinated. It will soon be the peak farm visiting season.
June: It’s shearing time for the sheep and harvesting of grass crops begins. Lamb sales will start now and continue until the end of February.
July: Grass is cut for silage and bales.
August: The cows start calving. Bullocks will be sold and pasture land tidied up.
September: Calving continues and cows have to again be trained to be milked. By now all the lambs are weaned and decisions are made on which ewes will be kept for breeding.
October: The breeding season starts for sheep.
November: The main breeding time for sheep, which extends until mid December.
December: One of the quietest months with cattle bought in to winter housing. The work is a routine round of milking, cleaning out, bedding and feeding stock. The sheep are still grazing the fells.