Upland Farming

The role of arts, culture and creativity in supporting a fair and regenerative agricultural transition

Hosted by the University of Lancaster

It is expected that cultural changes will be both needed and experienced by those involved in the rural policy and agricultural transitions underway. This is perhaps as true for those in Westminster as it is for farmers and land managers all over the country. In this respect, it is sometimes said that we need a new vision for our relationship to land. But what does this mean and who’s vision counts? Who’s visions have we inherited from the past and what is needed for the future? 
Arts and culture are often associated with urban contexts. But there is a growing movement which is concerned with the art of the rural— of environmental change, food, community and (agri)culture. This session will screen a film recently made in the Lake District National Park that brought together different voices and perspectives around the challenges and changes associated with the Agricultural Transition. Conversations during this session will explore how place-based arts and creativity can bring diverse people together into new collaborative settings, help us think about deep seated values and ask what role an art of the rural could or should play in making sense of the changes underway. 
It will also introduce a new project called The Once and Future Land, that aims to bring together Lancaster University with organisations of the North West of England, artists, land managers, researchers and policy makers. During this discussion we hope to get feedback and register interest from attendees.

Speakers/hosts include:

Louise Carver  – Louise is a researcher, curator, and writer. She develops creative and participatory forms of engagement working across geography, policy and the arts. She was recently a Parliamentary Office for Science and Technology Academic Fellow on ‘Sustainable Land Management’ in England. She is an Honorary Researcher at Lancaster Environment Centre.

Ewan Allinson  – Ewan is a sculptor, cultural landscape innovator, broadcaster, and Master Craftsman dry-stone waller. Ewan is the founder of the Northern Heartlands, a cultural and arts organisation working to give space to marginalised voices in farming, and an advisor to the Uplands Alliance. Ewan served as vice-chair of the award winning HLF Heart of Teesdale Landscape Partnership (HoT LP) from 2011-2016. He is currently undertaking PhD research at the University of Dundee’s College of Art, exploring the potential for art to help give voice to hill farmers and crofters embedded ways of knowing about land and nature.

Daniel Stanley – Daniel is the CEO of Future Narratives Lab and co-author with Shared Assets of the study “Power in Place: A New Narrative for Land”. Daniel is also strategic communications specialist, with a background in social psychology and community organising. He writes and lectures on narrative, values & framing.

Maddi Nicholson – Maddi is the Artist Founder Director of Art Gene in Barrow-in-Furness, along side Stuart Bastik. Her diverse practice involves working primarily with people and place – her interest is in communities: communities of people, of objects, of interest, of life – and the choices and allegiances that one makes. Her work is concerned with Art Gene’s role in bringing intelligent social and economic regeneration and reform to the Barrow-in-Furness area and beyond. 

The role of local wool and textile production in regenerative farming

Hosted by Rebecca Whittle

This event will bring you a panel of inspirational women; all of whom work with British wool or other fibres. Kate Makin (owner & founder of Northern Yarn), Maria Benjamin (Dodgson Wood farm), Zoe Fletcher (the Woolist), Andrea Meanwell (Low Borrowbridge Farm, author & Guardian columnist) and Rachel Atkinson (Daughter of a Shepherd) will join us to discuss how the wool industry has changed and how localised textile production can form an important part of regenerative farming landscapes, particularly in upland regions.

Speakers/hosts include:

Rebecca Whittle – Rebecca is a passionate advocate of local and sustainable food, farming and textiles. She is senior lecturer at Lancaster Environment Centre, community food skills chair for North Lancashire FoodFutures and a member of the Lancaster Textile Care Collective

Kate Makin – Kate is the owner and founder of Northern Yarn, an independent yarn shop in Lancaster which sources a wide variety of local and sustainable yarns including her own range which has been developed in collaboration with local farmers.

Maria Benjamin – Maria is the co-founder of Dodgson Wood, a farm diversification business based at Nibthwaite Grange Farm near Ulverston. Maria gives talks about building a business from scratch, particularly to the agricultural sector. She recently co-founded The Flock, which aims to provide British yarn from regenerative farms to fashion brands.

Zoe Fletcher: Passionate about British fleece and wool, Zoe’s work revolves around building honest, sustainable relationships with designers and producers, bridging the gap between raw materials, production and the end consumer. Pushing the boundaries using British wool and new technologies, exploring breed specific characteristics and celebrating their variety and versatility. Founder of the Woolist and co-founder of The Flock.

What’s a Hill Worth? Preparing public goods for payment on upland farms around Pendle Hill: Issues, Approaches and Findings

Hosted by the Forest of Bowland AONB.

The Forest of Bowland AONB are researching the impact on Lancashire hill farms of current policy changes by assessing their current business models and the value of natural capital they farm. We are providing the farms with scenarios for them, based on these factors and the possible options for payments to manage environmental outcomes. This data will support them in making business and farming decisions. A hypothetical case study farm was be described and the issues facing it drawn out for discussion.


Dr Alison Holt is director of Natural Capital Solutions Ltd and Visiting Researcher in Animal and
Plant Sciences at The University of Sheffield. She works with a broad range of organisations from the public, private and NGO sectors, delivering projects that focus on natural capital assessment, modelling, mapping and economic valuation of ecosystem services, natural capital accounting, landscape opportunity mapping and economic impact analyses. She has worked on Eycott Hill reserve natural capital account (2018); Cumbria Catchment Pioneer Pilot Project (2017 – ); Socio-economic impacts of the MoorLIFE 2020 Project (2017-20).

Professor Joe Morris: Director of Morris Resource Economics, Emeritus Professor of Resource Economics at Cranfield University; Principal Investigator, Rural Economy and Land Use Project, Integrated Floodplain Management (2006-9); Lead Expert, UK Foresight Land Use Futures Project (2010), Cabinet Office for Science and Technology, UK Government; Project Advisor: UK Land Use and Climate Change, UK Committee on Climate Change, 2016-2017; Lead Author, Land Degradation and Restoration, UNEP International Platform for Ecosystem Services and Biodiversity (IPBES): 2014-2017.

Cathy Hopley is Scheme Manager for the Pendle Hill Landscape Partnership led by Forest of Bowland AONB. She has been Develepment Officer at the AONB since 2004, having previously worked at the Countryside Agency, Mersey Forest and Lancashire Wildlife Trust.

Thomas Binns is the chairman of the NFU’s Upland Forum, and a livestock farmer on Pendle hill.

You can read a blog about the session outcomes here.

Japanese Rural Development & Marginal Hill Farming: what can we learn from farmers in other cultures?

Hosted by Prof. Lois Mansfield, Centre for National Parks and Protected Areas, University of Cumbria.

Upland farming is crucial to the farming landscape in the north. This session outlined how the Japanese have addressed the decline of their marginal hill farming businesses and communities. Whilst there are the usual grants and schemes from the government, Japanese farmers have come up with a range of innovations (some which we are familiar with, and others we are not) in order to maintain their farm businesses and their farming communities. Japan is a developed country facing a range of identical and specific challenges to UK uplands. This session included a presentation of the learning from the farming communities of south-west Japan and explored how we can harness their ideas to help our upland economy flourish.The discussion focused on how some of their ideas can be practically realised in northern upland areas.


Prof Lois Mansfield has worked in HE for 25 years specialising in upland agriculture, its key role for rural economies and how we can support its continuation. She currently sits on the Cumbria LEP Rural sector panel, the Lake District National Park Partnership Board, the Lake District World Heritage Site Technical Advisory Group and BEIS North West Post-COVID recovery.

You can read a blog post about the session outcomes here.

Our Common Cause: Collective and collaborative management of upland commons and beyond.

Hosted by the Hannah Field and Julia Aglionby, Foundation for Common Land.

The Our Common Cause (OCC) project completed its development phase in 2019 and now has funding for the delivery phase from the Heritage Lottery Fund and match funding from partners. The delivery is starting this year and will be complete in 2023. Focusing on upland commons, but with implications for land management more broadly, this project has 4 themes: collaboration, resilience, commons for all and commons for tomorrow. Commons differ to other forms of land management as they are based on the ancient practice of commoning, where communities of interdependent farms manage resources collectively for the benefit of all, with a view to being sustainable and resilient. The OCC project will deliver opportunities to co-create a sustainable future for common land, improving commons management and providing shared learning that can apply to other landscapes.

There are 3 commons from each of Cumbria, Yorkshire, Shropshire and Dartmoor in the OCC project so there are specific examples in a Northern England context to focus on. This session will be a set of presentations based on the OCC theme of collaboration, looking at collective management and what this means in practice including the challenges, benefits and opportunities. Working collectively is not always easy but it can provide opportunities to build supportive, resilient communities whilst delivering multiple benefits from landscapes to society, such as food, biodiversity, water quality and carbon storage. We hope that participants can learn about commoning as a form of collaborative management through the presentations and questions, and through following the progress of OCC delivery over the next 3 years. Presentations included one from Julia Aglionby, Chief Executive of the Foundation for Common Land and chair of the OCC project and from Hannah Field who is doing her PhD research alongside OCC. Hannah is researching the different narratives, perspectives and values within commons and how these can be brought together for social and ecological benefit through place-based decision-making.

Find out more about OCC: foundationforcommonland.org.uk/our-common-cause


Julia Aglionby is Executive Director of the Foundation for Common Land, Chair of the Uplands Alliance, a practicing Rural Chartered Surveyor and Agricultural Valuer and Professor in Practice at the University of Cumbria. Julia was a Board Member of Natural England from 2014 – 2019. She has worked as an environmental economist on National Park Management in Indonesia and the Philippines. Julia’s PhD research was at Newcastle University Law School and her thesis was entitled Governance of Common Land in National Parks: Plurality and Purpose. Julia lives in the Eden Valley, Cumbria with her family on an organic Care Farm of which she is a Trustee – Susan’s Farm CIO – where she enjoys practical farm work at the weekends.

Hannah Field grew up in Rochester, Kent and has spent the last 10 years in Cumbria, beginning with her studies at the University of Cumbria gaining a BSc (Hons) in Animal Conservation Science and then, in 2019, her PGDip Ecosystem Services Evaluation. Hannah is currently a PhD Student at the University, researching how diverse perspectives and values in land management can be brought together for social and ecological benefit through place-based decision-making. During this time, Hannah has worked for Forestry England in communications and visitor experience and runs her own business. She is an artist and tutor in wool crafts, designs and teaches nature-based and regenerative livelihood programmes and helps with horticulture and livestock on a permaculture smallholding. Hannah weaves together practical experience and academic knowledge to inform her research and practice. Building relationships with the land threads Hannah’s life through fell-walking, mountaineering, lake swimming and gardening, always with collie-dog Nova.

Will Rawling and Rosie Snowden.

Upland perspectives: can farmers, conservationists and researchers work in partnership to grow carbon efficient, bio-diverse and food productive farming in the North

Hosted by Rachel Marshall, Lancaster University, with farmers and researchers.

This workshop explored the perspectives of farmers, conservation advisors and researchers working in the Northern English uplands and identify ways of working in partnership to realise the sustainable food production potential of agriculture in the region, alongside public goods. If participants were to visit someone’s farm or project, they’d all most likely come away with a different story of it, depending on their expertise and perspective. Despite often using different language and having different connections to- and roles within- the landscape there is potentially much to be learnt and appreciated through sharing stories, knowledge and expertise between these different communities.  

Farming is about to undergo a huge change in its funding structure with the move away from Basic Payments to a subsidy system based on public money for public goods. There are many debates about whether this approach will deliver the environmental and health benefits it purports. However, it does present an opportunity for knowledge from the farming, conservation and research community to be integrated to build a collaborative community around agro-ecological practices relevant to this region.

This workshop was an opportunity to share perspectives on what carbon efficient, biodiverse and food productive farming could look like in the Northern uplands. It sought to identify opportunities for peer-to-peer learning and for collaborations between different communities of practice. As a workshop group we identified potential gaps in the knowledge and support networks and explore models of future collaboration which could help fill these gaps.


Rachel Marshall works with researchers, communities and practitioners from across the the food system to create opportunities for knowledge sharing, collaboration and co-design of research. Her interest lies in how we can collectively create more resilient and regenerative food systems; from the agricultural approaches used to produce food through to how we create a fairer society where healthy and environmental food is accessible and valued. She is part of FoodFutures (North Lancashire’s Sustainable Food Network) and works regularly at Claver Hill, a community growing project based in Lancaster.

Kate Gascoyne works for The Farmer Network, an independent organisation that is run by farmers for farmers in Cumbria and the Yorkshire Dales. They provide help and support to farmers where it is often most needed giving them strong connections to all farming communities. Kate organises events and farmer group meetings and co-ordinates the Business Support for Young People project, along with a number of other farmer led projects. She is keen to develop new farmer-led projects to build on what has already been learned.

Nic Renison was born on the family dairy farm in Shropshire. It wasn’t until 2014 moving with her husband Paul to their own farm with a huge mortgage that the regenerative bug started to gain traction. Firstly, they lowered all inputs as they couldn’t afford them! Then they got to grips with rotational grazing and reinstating hedges for shelter against the helm wind. Sheep numbers have been reduced, whilst cow numbers are rising, alongside pastured pigs and poultry. Alongside the farm Nic works for AHDB, and is also part of the ‘Carbon Calling Conference ‘ team which is due to take place in Cumbria next June.

Lisa Norton is part of the Land Use Group at CEH where she has worked as a plant/landscape ecologist for 20 years. Her research focuses on monitoring and management of natural capital for ecosystem service (ES) delivery and she works closely with social and economic scientists and stakeholders in interdisciplinary approaches towards sustainable environmental management of farmland. She is PI on a Global Food Security funded project; Sustainable economic and ecological grazing systems – Learning from innovative practitioners, and is currently working on a range of other projects including SARIC Sheep on Arable, Defra Clean Growth, the ELM’s Test and Trials evaluation and with an Innovative Farmers Group investigating how to maintain diverse swards on permanent grassland in Cumbria.

You can read the session outcomes here.

Wilderculture – a hybrid of regenerative grazing and rewilding for the uplands.

Hosted by Wilderculture CIC.

We are offering the chance to take a socially distanced walk around an exciting new project on the shores of Ullswater in the Lake District.

In the UK uplands there has been a significant loss of biodiversity and a call from some to reduce or remove livestock – especially sheep – and instead adopt rewilding on these less productive areas. However, in the green and pleasant UK, environmentalists must be careful not to forget that the UK is part of the larger global ecosystem and what impacts the world will influence the long-term future of UK land.

Major factors that are influencing world agriculture are:
– Global agricultural land is rapidly diminishing, increasing the reliance on moister climates to sustain a hungry global population.
– Globally we are losing 10 tons of soil for every ton of food produced with the FAO stating we have less than 60 global harvests left.
– Over 75% of the Earth’s land area is already degraded, and over 90% could become degraded by 2050.
– Globally, a total area half of the size of the European Union (4.18 million km²) is degraded annually, with Africa and Asia being the most affected.

Any large scale moves to remove upland areas from food production could have serious repercussions in the future for humanity as a whole.

Although the uplands are marginal in agricultural terms producing a small volume of calories and protein when compared to arable crops, the nutrient density of the meat produced is higher than any other food – a hugely important factor in creating truly sustainable nutrition security.

As we see intensification of food production on our depleted arable land and a shift in diets towards nutrient poor grain-based food, ensuring we have a sustainable supply of nutrient rich healthy foods from land that is unsuitable for plant food production is essential.

How we graze and manage livestock however cannot continue as ‘business as usual’ with further soil and biodiversity loss.

Regenerative farming has an impressive record for turning degraded land into healthy ecosystems that can also produce food over millions of acres globally, but so far there has been no trials of how this could be applied in the UK uplands at scale. Through Wilderculture CIC and our partnership projects we are refining and developing models which combine rewinding and regenerative grazing and are designed to be ecologically restorative, economically viable and culturally appropriate.

The Wilder Gowbarrow project guided walk is an exciting opportunity to see one of the projects in action and find our more about our approach.

Walks will have limited numbers, require social distancing and need to be pre-booked. They will leave at 10am, 12noon and 2pm.

Walk host:

Caroline Grindrod is a regenerative agriculture consultant and an accredited professional in Holistic Management with a background in hill farming and environmental conservation.

Caroline co-founded Wilderculture and is the lead trainer, project manager and developer of the Wilderculture approach.