Man’s best friend used to be a stranger to Sam Leng but he is quickly getting used to having Ella the sheepdog around after swapping bar work for the hills.
The 24-year-old had never had a dog growing up but now spends most of his work life with his new four-legged friend as he shepherds a flock of 1,200 Swaledale sheep in the uplands of the North York Moors.
It is here, in Baysdale, where Mr Leng works as an apprentice for estate farm manager Alan Jackson but his route to get to this point has not been straight forward.
He is one of a select few young people who have benefited from the support of the Yorkshire Moors Agricultural Apprenticeship Scheme, giving him the opportunity to experience work first-hand on two North Yorkshire farms, as well as spending one day a week studying at Askham Bryan College near York.
Mr Leng had always harboured a passion to work outside and his interest in football and cycling saw him leave his home town of Pickering to study sports coaching at Gloucestershire University. After, he found himself washing pots at a pub to support himself short-term. It was then he heard about the Moors apprenticeship scheme.
Although his mother is a hairdresser and his father is a builder, the scheme was an alluring opportunity to follow in the footsteps of his grandfather and his uncle as a farmer - and pursue his ambition of working in the great outdoors.
His application was successful and to do the job he was teamed with eight-year-old former trials sheepdog Ella, an arrangement only possible thanks to the David Arnold-Forster Trust which paid for her arrival. The Trust was set up in honour of the former chief executive of the North York Moors National Park who died in 2002 and promotes sustainable upland hill farming.
Mr Leng, whose skill as a shepherd has landed him a job at the end of his apprenticeship on the moorland estate, said: “Without the funds from the David Arnold-Forster Trust I would never have been able to afford a sheepdog. Ella is great; it is like she has always been with me. She has made my working life a lot easier too! I’m very grateful.”
Mr Leng said it would have been impossible to forge a career in farming without the apprenticeship scheme.
“This scheme has enabled me to return home, try my hand at working in the farming community while earning a living, and is giving me valuable experience and knowledge. I know it’s not glamorous, it’s long hours and I have even taken a reduction in my wage to be on the scheme, but I really think it will be worth it in the long run.”
Nola Atkinson, co-ordinator of the Yorkshire Moors Agricultural Apprenticeship Scheme, said: “Upland hill farmers, with the nature of the landscape that is worked, can’t use heavy agricultural machinery and rely heavily on sheepdogs when moving and controlling flocks.
“The dogs are specifically bred and trained to work sheep, training that is continuous throughout their working life, which can make them a very expensive commodity.
“The help of the David Arnold-Forster Trust has been invaluable in giving Sam the opportunity to put his education into practice and learn new skills.
“Over several weeks, Sam worked with Ella, developing their relationship and training her to respond to his commands and voice. It has been a massive success.”