Photographer's new book chronicles life through the seasons for last farmers in lonely Birkdale

A photographer has chronicled the life of one of the last farming families left in a remote dale for a new book about life in the uplands.

The Calvert men gather the sheep
The Calvert men gather the sheep

Ian Short, from Richmond, spent three years shadowing the Calvert family, noted Swaledale sheep breeders who jointly run two farms in isolated Birkdale.

The late George Calvert's sons Chris and Ray, their wives Glenda and Alison, and Ray and Alison's son Andrew and his young children, are all featured working the land their family have owned for over 100 years.

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Ian, who also runs photography tours and holidays in the area, was inspired to produce the book by his interest in land use in the northern Dales.

Red grouse live on the farm, which is near a managed shooting estate

He chose to focus on an area which has just three hill farms remaining - including Ravenseat, home of celebrity shepherdess Amanda Owen - and which has suffered from significant population decline and the resulting amalgamation of land in the past century.

Ian chose the Calverts as subjects after a chance meeting with Glenda Calvert, who runs a B&B and a blog, at one of his talks at the Dales Countryside Museum in Hawes.

He has now sold over 200 copies of Seasons On a Hill Farm, with all profits going towards local charities and organisations.

"I've always been curious about Swaledale, because it's such a fascinating, remote spot. I was giving a presentation at the museum when Glenda spotted her husband in one of my pictures of Muker Show, and I went on to develop a close relationship with them.

A hay meadow at Pry House Farm

"A lot of the images are of parts of the landscape people associate with the Dales - flower meadows, barns, waterfalls.

"It's very quiet up in Birkdale, it's close to the Cumbrian border and overlooked by Mallerstang. You see very few people up there, and it's wild country."

The book is laid out around the seasons, and features transcribed conversations with several members of the family.

"I wanted readers to be able to hear their voices. They're optimists, they love their work and the landscape, and they love the isolation. They sell their ewes to other breeders in a sort of closed system with tentacles reaching out across the north."

Glenda Calvert feeds a lamb

The Yorkshire Dales National Park Authority provided a grant for Ian to publish the hardback volume.

"They were supportive of my passages about the decline of bird species such as the curlew, and the impact of visitors. I went to sheep shows and marts with the Calverts."

The book touches on various issues affecting the uplands, including wildlife and managed grouse shooting - the Calverts farm near the Gunnerside sporting estate - as well as the future viability of farming and the next generation.

"It's a very modern hill farm. Glenda worked in education and Alison is a nurse, so they're not socially isolated or insular - they have a quiet life but they are outward-looking.

Chris Calvert

"At one of the sheep shows, I photographed a teenage girl and her grandfather, and she was interested in farming. Andrew Calvert's children may carry on the farm. Birkdale has lost a lot of people since the 1960s, and there are fewer farmsteads now - the land is still farmed, but it's all rationalised now."

Ian has been selling his book via his own website, and hopes to secure local stockists once lockdown lifts. His other enthusiastic vendor is Glenda, who has been posting copies to former guests who have stayed at her B&B.

"They say it reminds them of holidays in Birkdale now they're not allowed to visit, which is lovely."

Visit www.ianshortphotography.co.uk to purchase a copy of Seasons On a Hill Farm.

Birkdale
Pry House Farm in winter