A vision to help safeguard the future of hill farming is about to become reality with the announcement that a Sheep Husbandry Training Centre at Newton Rigg College is to go ahead.
The Centre will be built at the college's uplands farm and will be a national showcase for the best hill farming practice, ensure the industry's future workforce and leaders have the key skills they need and provide a focal point as a demonstration farm.
The £430,000 project is based at Low Beckside Farm in Mungrisdale and includes demolition of the existing buildings, constructing the new Sheep Husbandry Centre, which will be a steel portal framed building measuring 36m x 25m x 2.95m with Yorkshire boarding and a fibre cement roof. There will be additional work provide new areas of hard standing to aid sheep handling, and improvements to the silage clamp. Robinsons Scotland Ltd has been awarded the contract and work is expected to begin later this month and be complete by September.
The Centre will be used throughout the year, particularly for practical teaching. It will be the focus for the college's lambing operations, a base for sheep shearing and for general sheep husbandry.
Alongside the specialist courses for students, the Centre will host farm events and demonstration activities within uplands agriculture and sheep management to show best practice and encourage professional development.
Low Beckside Farm is home to two flocks, a Swaledale flock of 350 ewes which are hefted to the fell at Mungrisdale and a draft flock (older ewes from the fell flock) which are kept on land at Low Beckside and Redmire.
Wes Johnson, Campus Principal, said: “Our vision is that Newton Rigg College will become the UK hub for training and education in uplands land management and sheep husbandry which will not only benefit students but the UK hill farming industry as a whole.”
He added: “This new Centre will enable us to demonstrate the best modern hill farming practice with high standards of animal welfare and hygiene and provide the future workforce with key hill farming skills. The UK uplands are a vital part not only of our countrywide and heritage, but of British agriculture and this initiative will help ensure the future viability of this important sector of farming.”
Newton Rigg is the only college in England to have its own hill farm and it also hosts the National Centre for the Uplands. It is part of York-based Askham Bryan College, which took over the running of Newton Rigg in 2011. Since then student numbers have increased year on year, particularly across the land-based courses. There are currently 600 students studying agriculture across Askham Bryan's 11 centres in the north of England.
The project has been supported by the Cumbria LEP, through the Skills Funding Agency and Cumbrian farmers have had input as members of the college's Technical Advisory Group. Support has also been given by the Cumbria Farmer Network, Lake District National Park, NFU, CLA, and Cumbria YFC.
Graham Haywood, Director of Cumbria Local Enterprise Partnership, says: “A key strand of our strategic economic plan is to target investment to maintain and nurture a vibrant rural economy, and the development of the training centre at Newton Rigg will reinforce Cumbria's reputation for excellence in uplands agriculture.
"Developing our expertise for land management and animal welfare opens up new opportunities for agriculture students to learn new skills, as well as helping to protect our hill farming heritage and contributing to environmental sustainability."
The college has formed a technical advisory group to progress the initiative with several members from the Cumbrian farming community providing input and informing the project. David Lawton is an advisory group member and with many years as an upland hill farmer. He said: “This is a unique development educationally and it is ideally placed to become a centre of excellence both regionally and nationally. It will I'm sure be warmly welcomed by the farming community both in Cumbria and across the country.”
Ryan Brown, Managing Director of Robinsons Ltd commented: “We look forward to creating a great new facility for Newton Rigg College and further boosting its offering as the only English college with its own hill farm. We understand the importance of investing in the next generation to ensure that they have the tools to develop and be successful in this ever changing industry. Being able to provide the full project from start to finish ensures that we are able to guarantee the quality of the work and the efficiency of the project. We are delighted to be involved.”