Back from the brink at the reinvented East Riding farm

Gordon Hawcroft has overcome the loss of his pig venture and made his farm into a champion for wildlife as well as welcoming country lovers wanting accommodation.  Pic: Simon Hulme.

Gordon Hawcroft has overcome the loss of his pig venture and made his farm into a champion for wildlife as well as welcoming country lovers wanting accommodation. Pic: Simon Hulme.

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FIFTEEN YEARS ago Gordon Hawcroft was just another arable and pig farmer.

He was happy. All he’d ever wanted was a nice family farm and he had just that, growing traditional crops and with 120 breeding sows, their progeny taken through to bacon weight.

But things have changed on his 425-acre Holme Lodge Farm at Holme on Spalding Moor. Although he is still farming, the pigs have gone, 150 acres are in stewardship agreements, he’s moved into holiday accommodation and has become an ambassador for farming to the general public.

“I remember being asked by someone what my thoughts had been when I first went into a stewardship scheme. How I replied was that the hardest thing of all when you’re in business must be to actually look at yourself and recognise what you see. My feeling is that the only way you’re ever going to be successful as a businessman is to be realistic.

“My father Leslie died in 2000. Foot and Mouth disease occurred in 2001 and things were never the same again. I had to restructure the business. Pigs had made a big contribution to the profit of the farm but we’d got to the point where we couldn’t look up and see what we were doing. Our buildings were worn out and needed replacing and we couldn’t afford the cost. We finally let the pigs go in 2004.

“What I saw in front of me was an opportunity called HLS (Higher Level Stewardship). I wanted to create something out of it not just as a little add-on but as a strong enterprise on the farm. I saw that the income to be accrued from being involved in the HLS scheme could bring about the same income as the Single Farm Payment. I became knowledgeable about wildlife, hedgerows and all conservation issues associated with arable farming.

“For our family it’s been a great thing. My wife Jill, daughter Emma (21) and son David (19) have all played their own part in planting hedgerows and beautifying the farmland. We’ve put paddocks back in and increased the wildlife, planted 3km of new hedgerows, renovated another 4km that was gappy, put in wildflower meadows and dug two brand new ponds in addition to the 11 we had already. Every watercourse is buffered with at least a six-metre buffer zone that assists the wildlife further. We have a massive amount of songbirds on the hedgerows and as a child I can never remember having buzzards on the farm but they’re thriving now as well as the grey partridge.”

Another major change has been the farmhouse rebuilt at Forest Farm, where Gordon lived as a boy, in the traditional style of local farmhouses of old. It has seven bedrooms with accommodation for parties of 14. Gordon explains: “We’ve hosted farm walks for all sorts of people and specifically not farmers because they just want to talk about problems. What the public likes is the chance to set foot on farmland and talk with the farmer.

“I was always aware that the East Riding was a beautiful place to visit but that few come to it in the same way as the Moors and Dales. I started talking with people about this and have since been involved with The Nature Triangle set up by Yorkshire Wildlife Trust. This led to a meeting with Andy Gray of Visit Hull & East Yorkshire at Forest Farm. It was Andy who told me this would make a fantastic holiday venue. We’re now busy 46 weeks of the year and the holiday let makes almost as much as the farm.”

Gordon also sits on local access forums advising councils on access issues; he opens the farm for Open Farm Sunday and hosts farm walks year-round.

Search for the best

Gordon Hawcroft is just one local farmer who has nominated themselves to be named The Yorkshire Post’s Farmer of the Year 2015.

But there is still plenty of time to send in your entries. All you need to do is sum up in just 500 words how you, as a farmer, go the extra mile to educate the public about the journey of food from field to fork. The winner will be presented with the award at this year’s Great Yorkshire Show in Harrogate on July 14-16. The closing date for entries is Friday, June 12.

To enter, send entries to: Ben Barnett, Country Week, The Yorkshire Post, 26 Whitehall Road, Leeds, LS12 1BE or email ben.barnett@jpress.co.uk

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