Between them they have amassed a staggering 114,000 or so followers on Twitter, sold-out auditoriums and have documented their farming lives in books and on television. A new breed of shepherdesses are challenging age-old farming stereotypes whilst winning friends and influencing people.
From Amanda Owen and Alison O’Neill’s awe-inspiring surroundings in the Yorkshire Dales and from Hannah Jackson and Andrea Meanwell’s atmospheric Cumbrian pastures, the story of farming in the hills is being told by four women in a way that is reaching far-beyond rural communities thanks in no small part to the nation’s obsession with social media.
“It’s that old fashioned thing,” says Mrs Owen, of Ravenseat, on why shepherdesses’ have developed a fanbase. “People conjure up a romantic image of traditional pastoral scenes and there’s some of that and some of the opposite in what I do as well.”
The mother-of-nine, who is known as The Yorkshire Shepherdess and is originally from Huddersfield, first came to the public’s attention on ITV show The Dales in 2011. With her husband Clive and their children, she runs a remote 2,000-acre tenant farm with around 1,000 sheep. She has written three books, starred in hit TV series Our Yorkshire Farm and will this week feature in Channel 5’s new two-part highlights series Today at The Great Yorkshire Show.
'It's about showing people the reality of farming'
Speaking to The Yorkshire Post between tour dates promoting her latest tome, Mrs Owen said: “At the moment there’s a lot of shouty media people who are very anti-farming, pro-vegan and rewilding. For me, it’s about getting out there in front of people and saying this is what we do, we are not ashamed - showing people the reality.
“I’m finding the experience of going out and talking to the public very positive. I wish a lot of farmers could hear the comments from people hearing my particular story.”
Bridging the rural-urban divide
Miss Jackson, 26, will be a special guest at this week’s Great Yorkshire Show in Harrogate. She describes herself as a “complete townie” growing up on The Wirral and says it was the sight of a lamb being born outside during a family holiday in the Lake District six years ago, shortly after she had completed a degree in animal behaviour, that led her to uproot to a Cumbrian smallholding and embark on a contract shepherding career.
She said she wants to use her profile to address the “complete collapse” of urban dwellers’ understanding of food production.
“That’s my biggest mission,” she said. “On social media you reach such a wide audience of people and you couldn’t tell your story otherwise.”
It was a sense that farming was being misrepresented that prompted Westmorland Shepherdess, Ms Meanwell, to document her way of life on social media and in books.
“I got really enraged at environmentalists like George Monbiot saying that the uplands of Britain are ‘sheepwrecked’, without any regard for the cultural heritage of the area. I felt I had to speak out,” said Ms Meanwell, who is also a farming officer for the Lake District National Park Authority.
“I want to tell people about all the good work that farming families do farming for wildlife habitats, water quality and carbon storage.”
The 161st Great Yorkshire Show, which gets underway on Tuesday, is another chance for farmers to set the record straight.