Wild camping has become more popular since the pandemic restricted holiday makers and this summer one young farming family on the Yorkshire Wolds has dipped its toe into the water with encouraging success.
Claire Hargreaves has just started a new 10-year tenancy at the 270-acre Brown Moor Farm near Leavening where she grew up helping and working on what was her father Michael’s tenancy until five years ago, when she took over on an initial five-year agreement with Garrowby Estate.
Claire said that the thought of trying a wild camping site on the mixed farming enterprise that includes crops, cattle and sheep was motivated by a need to find additional income over summer, to alleviate the onset of lesser farm subsidies and because of her research.
“How my farm works is that during the summer months I have no income. Mine usually comes from around now when I sell corn; lambs born in the spring being sold from now until January; and then store cattle sold in April and May.
“We need to create more income in order for the farm to be viable in the future, particularly bearing in mind that we may be losing subsidies by coming out of the EU, and I’d heard lots of reports about farms trying pop-up campsites.
“They seem to be quite popular and since we live in a fantastic part of the world up here in the Wolds with amazing views and beautiful countryside, I thought it might be worth having a go.”
Claire said she looked into what wild camping was about, her land agent came to have a look at what she proposed, and she was pleasantly surprised by the reaction she received when she opened a 10-pitch site between July and September.
“I read up on wild camping and found that the people who enjoyed it weren’t too bothered about whether the ground was on a bit of a slope, so we used a field of about two acres where the view is spectacular.
“The field was in the higher level stewardship scheme and was a cultivated fallow plot. We had the 28-day rule for non-agricultural purposes extended to 56 days with a break of four days so that we adhered to the ruling that you couldn’t have it available for more than 40 consecutive days.
“It worked so well. We started it just as the school summer holiday started in July and carried on until September 16. We had decided to start with just ten pitches even though the land could have taken more.”
Claire said that she found running the site a truly wonderful experience and one that she is hoping she may be able to extend in terms of a longer period next year.
“Everyone who came thought it was a brilliant place and we have had superb reviews on Pitch Up, the camping website. We had all kinds of people from young families to couples. I really enjoyed hosting. They were all such lovely people and were all amazed at how much space each animal had to graze.
"We had some vegan campers too. I showed them how high our animal welfare standards are on the farm.”
Claire said she is already looking forward to 2022.
“Maybe next year there might be a possibility that we could think of the camp site as permanent, which would involve having a licence. If we can I would then extend our facilities a little and maybe incorporate a shower.”
Brown Moor Farm was converted to organic status in 2000 and remains so. Claire said that the premium for organic crops and meat isn’t quite the same as it was when farmers were encouraged that way.
“There isn’t the gap that there once was between organic and commercial, but we are still wholly committed and I have my own personal contact at The Soil Association where I’m certified and they offer me great advice.
“My dad liked the idea of going back to a more natural, traditional way of working the land without pesticides.
“We have around 80 acres of permanent grassland with the rest on a five-year crop rotation that starts with arable silage undersown with clover ryegrass leys for two years, followed by spring oats, rye and then winter oats. The grass is for our cattle and the sheep. I usually sell the oats to a local organic dairy farmer. Our oats are also very useful for our straw requirements as we would otherwise struggle for livestock bedding.”
Claire’s herd runs to 24 suckler cows that are predominantly Limousin-crossed with some Hereford-cross calving in March and April. All of her stock is bulled naturally, currently using a bull she purchased from a Limousin breeder near North Duffield.
She said that she is just briefly coming out of a high health scheme because she has had difficulty finding replacement cattle that tick the right boxes of organic livestock.
“I don’t really want to come out of it. I’ve been keeping my own replacements for the past two years, but this time I’m having to look elsewhere. It’s not the end of the world. We are still organic and I’m hoping to buy some from another local organic dairy farmer.”
The sheep flock is made up of 90 Texel-cross ewes with around 130 lambs born at the end of March. Once again, Claire said she keeps everything local.
“Initially we started with the Mule but we are now almost wholly Texel. I bought some Charollais-cross gimmer lambs from a fellow organic farmer on the Wolds last year, but I like the Texel. Our Texel rams are bought locally too. The sheep are all out in the fields until two months before lambing and then out again a few days afterwards.”
Claire is married to Oliver who works as a contracts manager for a building service company. The couple have two children - Jessica, 10, and Amelia, eight.
Claire said that she has other ideas for making the farm more viable.
“We sold boxed lamb quite a few years ago. That’s something else I’m interested in looking into further.”