The farm on the M62 becomes an outdoor schoolroom for the next generation

As the return to school date stretches away into the distance, our thoughts have turned to a long-term schooling plan for John-William.

The next generation of farmers are embracing change
The next generation of farmers are embracing change

Despite Paul’s insistence that education beyond the farm is pointless, I feel slightly different and try and keep up with his online schoolwork. It’s not easy keeping him indoors, especially when there is the lure of snow, a new sledge and countless hills to race down. Quad bikes, tractors and bale piles to climb are all a constant distraction.

I do believe, however, there is more to education than fractions and religious studies. As Robert MacFarlane described in his superb book, The Lost Words, the language of children is fast disappearing from our modern world. “Acorn, adder, bluebell, bramble, conker, willow, wren,” the words to describe the natural world, all but gone.

It’s a constant source of frustration and dismay for me that few children of John-William’s age understand and appreciate where their food comes from and fewer still absorb the natural world around them. So my current teaching for our son is just that.

He learns about the flora and fauna he shares his home with. If time and weather allows it, we sometimes sit up on the hillside overlooking the farm. It’s called Moselden heights.

Behind us, miles of open moorland with just grass tussocks, heather and sheep. Bleak and barren to some, tranquil and soothing to others. Beneath us, miles of tarmac and wagons.

Noisy, unsightly but a necessary evil, I’m told. The two worlds collide and are at such odds with one another. One constantly damaging, the other desperately trying to absorb the damage.

A sad juxtaposition. Our discussions inevitably centre around the motorway and the impact it has on our lives.

We try and picture the farm before this awful intrusion changed life at Stott Hall Farm forever. The damage is done here, irreversibly, but as I watch with increasing horror the mass environmental vandalism currently ongoing for the sake of a train line, I shudder for those poor families having their lives torn apart.

Countless ancient forests and listed buildings, acres of prime, fertile farmland, hedgerows, waterways and wildlife destroyed. For what? A quick trip to London?

The future for our children and young farmers is so uncertain. The next generation of shepherds, stocksmen, herdsmen, growers, all facing a difficult period of instability and fading public support. Paul continues farming as he has done his entire life with the hope that one day John-William will take over. In amongst our constant worries and fears, the light of hope, ambition and determination shines brightly in our children.

That same dogged determination our forefathers had will continue and despite the huge upheavals British agriculture is now facing, I remain hopeful for the future of our farmers and our glorious countryside.