Neil & Leigh Heseltine, Hill Top Farm 1/3

Tell us about your farm, its location, size, altitude, climate, soils, enterprises, organic/PfL/other status

Hill Top Farm in Malham (Photo: Gail Caddy)

We are in the Yorkshire Dales near Malham in the National Park. My family have farmed here for a long time, my Dad farms here, my grandad on my Mum’s side farmed here, and in total we farm 1200-acres, a mix of rented and land owned by my parents. Just over half of our farm is tenanted, with 3 to 4 different landlords. Our farm runs from the village, 800 ft above sea level to 1800 ft above sea level, rising quickly. 

The farm is mainly on limestone bedrock and the Mid Craven Fault, which is 50% limestone and 50% millstone grit. It’s interesting for biodiversity and each area requires different management. The farm is permanent pasture with 40 acres of species-rich hay meadows. We have a 40-strong calving herd of belted Galloways, 80 Swaledale and Wensleydale sheep, the latter mainly kept for wool as well as lambs. Each fleece commands about £45 because it’s high quality for spinners and heavy. We get £15/kg and each sheep’s fleece is about 3kg in weight.

We are Pasture for Life Certified, organic certified with the Soil Association and also part of the steering group for the Nature Farming Group. 

The Heseltine's Belted Galloways (Stephen Garnett)

Share with us a general description of the biodiversity on your farm – essentially above ground (but reference to below ground if relevant) – both flora and fauna.

In general terms, we’re farming on limestone and we’ve learned we need to try and create the right conditions for a unique type of biodiversity on our limestone areas. We encourage the biodiversity as much as possible on our limestone areas and benefit as a result. Early on, we got involved in a Limestone Country Project - whose emblem was a species called bird’s-eye primrose - managing for other similar plant types including alpine species; tiny limestone plants such as cowslips, sedges, bird’s-eye primrose, wood anemone, yarrow and harebells. All of these species are synonymous with limestone areas and pasture. 

The management of the areas are similar in terms of creating the right conditions for wading birds. Part of our land is the Great Close Mire, which was involved with a European project called The Limestone Country Project, a European designation wetland Ramsar site, which we have a lot of triple SSSIs, a National Nature Reservation, as well as Higher Level Countryside Stewardship agreements. Great Close Mire as its name suggests has a mire and wetness. Limestone creates unique conditions, draining exceptionally well because limestone pushes water out of the hillside. 

Unique to this site are 3 to 4 different orchids, for example, autumn and field genshins, and mountain pansies. Although I’ve never seen one, an example of a species unique to this environment is a snail which is the size of a pin head. To encourage this unique environment, we manage the areas specifically for biodiversity, and we see a kind of layering of species by deploying the same management for all. Hay meadows and botanical species are all important for ground nesting birds and wading birds. On Great Mire alone, there are 5 to 6 red listed species of bird. 

Our bird life includes red shanks, snipe, curlew, skylark and lapwing. The migratory wheatear returns in spring. We see hares, and our barn owl boxes attracts the owls regularly, monitored alongside the British Trust for Ornithology. Woodcock have increased in the last couple of months because different rock types and mill stone grit suits them better. Hopefully, it’s because we are managing the land for biodiversity first and foremost and the farm must fit in around that. 

Hare at Hill Top Farm (Cain Scrimegour)