Stott Hall Farm is hard to miss if you find yourself on the M62 in West Yorkshire, principally because it is sandwiched between two lanes of the motorway.
Current tenant farmer Paul Thorp has worked at Stott Hall since 1992, and has lived there with his wife, Jill Falkingham-Thorp, since 2010.
The reason for the farm’s unique location is debatable. Local mythology has it that the previous owner, Ken Wild, who died in 2004, stubbornly refused to sell his land to make way for the motorway. However, the true reason is likely to be for more practical considerations. Jill explains: “The westbound carriageway couldn’t be built any lower than it is due to the rock formation, and the eastbound carriageway kept slipping when they tried to get the height level up. Initially, the farm was earmarked for demolition but was saved when the decision was made to split the carriageways.”
Stott Hall, owned by CLA member Yorkshire Water, is classed as a severely disadvantaged land farm and sits between 1,100 and 1,600 feet above sea level, with highly acidic soil and exposure to wind and rain. The couple manages 1,100 breeding ewes and 20 cows on about 2,500 acres of land.
The farm has its own climate, and it is extremely challenging to work on an upland hill farm as the grass does not grow high, and it is very cold
Paul says: "We’ve built two steel frame buildings that allow us to build up our suckler herd and also facilitate indoor lambing.”
Living between the lanes also has its challenges. Paul and Jill are concerned about pollution, but the constant wind means it does not settle, as in urban areas. Jill finds the road noise bothersome, but the couple has installed triple-glazed windows to alleviate it, as well as a large, dense conifer hedge. The couple is also negotiating with Highways England to have a solid fence erected.
Far less concerned with his surroundings is the couple’s young son John-William. Jill says: “He loves living here, even more so now that he’s discovered his home is quite famous! The noise from the motorway has never bothered him.”
“I do his 30-minute school runs to and from the Holmfirth area, where both our families are from. It is good to see them often, as being caught between the lanes can be a socially isolating experience. It is also reassuring to know that John-William’s grandparents are there if help is needed.”
There is only one road with access to the farm, with an underpass beneath each carriageway. Since moving in to the farmhouse, which dates back to 1737, Jill has been on a mission to renovate and upgrade the property. Additional work is in the pipeline, but the house is now warm and cosy, with a roaring wood burner and farmhouse kitchen
Jill and Paul are very passionate about conservation, and farm sympathetically with their surroundings.
In 2017, Stott Hall Farm signed up to Yorkshire Water’s ‘Beyond Nature’ initiative, which aims to support farm sustainability, protect peatlands potential for storing carbon, wildlife and water resources. As part of this, native hedgerows and meadows have been planted around the farm’s in-bye land, which provides not only shade and shelter for their sheep, but also essential habitat for birds.
Other environmentally regenerative work includes the planned clough planting of native trees this autumn, as well as further spagnum moss plantings where appropriate. Yorkshire Water specialists will also work to raise the water table of the moors, helping to minimise the flooding risk. Paul says: “We have a great working relationship with not only Yorkshire Water, our landlord, but also with Moors for the Future, which always understands the importance of farming and maintaining a strong partnership with farmers and landowners.”
Despite its proximity to the motorway, the farm is home to a wide variety of birds. The couple has been involved with the Twite Recovery Programme for about 12 years, and specialist grass seed and timing of grazing and mowing of their hay meadows has helped maintain a suitable habitat for them to thrive in.
Curlews, sandpipers, oystercatchers and lapwings are regular visitors. The curlew, Jill’s favourite bird, has seen numbers rapidly decline, and the couple recently signed up to the Curlew Recovery Partnership.
Increased visitor footfall to their uplands, coupled with people letting their dogs off the lead, is contributing to the decline of birds. Ground nesting birds are easily disturbed, so constant signage and speaking to walkers are both essential.
Looking to the future, Jill and Paul hope to facilitate young people to visit the farm. Jill says: “I passionately believe that education is the key to encourage people to support their local food producers. As environmental issues are now more urgent than ever before, we all need to play our part in working with nature and be significantly more mindful of our farming techniques.”
Yorkshire Water’s ‘Beyond Nature’ priorities for Stott Hall are:
Restoration of blanket bog and upland heath priority habitats on moorland at Stott Hall Farm and Moss Moor, to benefit breeding populations of golden plover, curlew, merlin and twite, and improve water quality, flow and carbon capture.
Conservation of key species including breeding waders (lapwing, curlew, snipe, golden plover and redshank) by conservation grazing with sheep and cattle, and rush and Molinia management.
Conservation of the twite population by hay meadow and moorland management, as well as continued involvement with the England Twite Recovery Project.
Sympathetic management of acid grassland/upland heath on in-bye land.
Maintenance of existing woodland and creation of new woodland where appropriate.
Protection and interpretation of historic features on the farm, and continuing drystone wall restoration, to conserve the historic landscape.
Improving biodiversity and carbon storage are two overarching priorities that are delivered by the points outlined above.
For more information about the project visit: yorkshirewater.com/environment/beyond-nature/