Kate Bellis Photography

 
 
 

Derbyshire Hill Farming

 

Guardian Extract - January 23rd, 2002: Michael Simmons on farming communities reeling from the foot and mouth crisis.

As Derbyshire farmer Arthur Wheeldon listened to the latest distressing foot and mouth news on his fireside radio at Moor Cottage Farm, Wirksworth Moor, he confessed to photographer Kate Bellis that he felt "ready for a box". Last November he died, aged 83.

"I sit here and listen to the wireless and all you hear is more and more cases," he told Bellis. "It's a rum job, all that killing and burning. They've gone mad."

Bellis has spent five years living among sheep farmers in the north of the country. A book of her photographs, On The Edge, is published this month with text by Michael Simmons. When the two began the project, foot and mouth was a memory from the 1960's. When they finished, it was an all too present horror. Formally, the foot and mouth crisis ended last week when Northumberland, the last remaining "at risk" county, had it's restrictions lifted. But the anguish and heartache goes on for Britain's farming community - and will not go away for a long time.

Some farmers have given way to despair and committed suicide; others have gone bankrupt and are leaving the business that has been in the family for generations. The profile of the countryside has changed out of recognition.

At the Derwent Rural Counselling Service, based in the Derbyshire market town of Bakewell, they routinely get "several hundred" calls for help every year. "But last year," says Marian Fuller-Sessions, one of the team, "84% of our calls were from individuals affected by foot in mouth. An awful lot of them, even now, are just keeping going; they're struggling and it's constantly on their minds. The children are suffering too, and there will, I am sure, be long-term anxiety problems for them."

In Cumbria, the crisis was devastating. Half the country's 6,000 farmers were hit by the disease. At its height, Caz Graham, herself from a farming background, ran a late night phone-in programme for BBC Radio Cumbria and every night from 10pm to midnight, for weeks on end, she was inundated with calls. "Many were in tears and just didn't know what to do," she says. "What can you say to a farmer, or a farmer's wife, who breaks down as she tells you that he's just lost 4,000 animals?"

Now Graham has brought together the words and thoughts of 50 Cumbrian men and women involved in the crisis, in all sorts of ways, and has turned them into a book called Foot and Mouth:Heart and Soul. The first edition sold out in a matter of days, but it is being reprinted.

Dip into any page and the enormity of it all slams home. Pamela Brough, an Ulverston-based writer who for many years ran a small hill farm in the Derbyshire Peaks, tells of a slaughterman who was finding it "hard to cope" with the mass killing. He talked, she said, of having standards, of respecting the animals and of giving them a "decent death".

Andrew Humphries, a well known figure in Cumbria, has been a teacher and adviser to local farmers for more than 30 years, and ran a helpline during the crisis. He reflects: "Babies were born and could not be shared with families. People died and could not be laid to rest in their own burial ground. Children and students were separated from parents and from education."

In statistical terms, Cumbria suffered the worst of the crisis, while Derbyshire had just a handful of cases in the south of the county. But Derbyshire, like Cumbria, is a sheep county and a destination of tourists. Suddenly, for months on end, the movement and marketing of livestock - and the movement of people - was all-embracingly stringent. The county's biggest agricultural shows, important events for social as well as farming reasons, went ahead - but without animals. Livestock markets are still closed, but due to reopen next month.

The movement of animals remains complicated and there is anger at what the farmers see as the "invisible bureaucrats". Unknown numbers of farmers have been financially crippled by the crisis; and the impact on tourism, in a county which in good times is visited by almost 22m people a year, spending well over £500m, has been huge. Most recently, it was announced that the countryside agency and Derbyshire county council were giving limited financial backing - £93,000 - to a number of schemes to refurbish the tourism infrastructure.

In a recent issue of the Derbyshire Times newspaper, farmer Hugh Meredith wrote: "No part of our rural communities has escaped and we, as farmers, must appreciate the price paid by the tourist industry on our behalf..." He is convinced the smaller farms will survive and retains this certainty despite the fact that, according to the National Farmers' Union, the income of the average farmer, even before foot and mouth, was just £5,200 a year. Looking at such figures, other observers are not so sanguine.

Last October, a conference was held in Ashbourne by the Peak District Rural Deprivation Forum, ostensibly to discuss the rural white paper but in fact to compare crisis notes. The event had been postponed more than six months because people wanting to attend had been barred by foot and mouth from leaving their homes. A common theme was the remoteness of officialdom, leading to its inability to understand local problems, and a consensus that a new voice had to be found for farming interests.

The Derwent counselling service also convened a conference, bringing together professionals dealing with farmers and their families. Here again, the talk was of unrecognised stresses and strains, including emotional and mental health problems. Agreement was reached to hold a follow-up event, on similar lines, as soon as possible. Out of adversity, a new sense of solidarity was born.

 

Guardian Extract - December 29th, 1999. Michael Simmons meets a photographer who has spent the last two years chronicling the lives of Derbyshire die-hards.

Since 1997, Kate Bellis, who studied photography at Nottingham and then travelled the world before becoming a tenant of the Salisburys, has been watching the two families' lives through the lens of her Leica Rangefinder. She is convinced that she is recording a way of life under threat, and one that will have disappeared within a generation. "I couldn't just sit there and watch it go under," she says.Viv Chadwick and her husband, Andrew, used to love hill farming. It didn't matter too much that they had so few 'real' holidays - two she reckons, in 30 or so years. But now it's all paperwork and incomprehending governments. "The worst thing they've done," Viv says, "is that they've taken the pleasure out of it all."

Across the valley from where they live in Derbyshire, Sue Salisbury works the only other farm in the village, with her father and her husband, Roger. She says: "You have to work a lot harder for less return. You get some pleasure, but a big brother official is always in the corner, watching. You have to do what you are told."

Abney, where the Chadwicks, the Salisburys and their animals live, has a population of fewer than 100 and is in on of the more beautiful corners of Derbyshire's Peak District. Charlotte Brontë used to visit nearby and found inspiration there for Jane Eyre. Across the valley from where they live in Derbyshire, Sue Salisbury works the only other farm in the village, with her father and her husband, Roger. She says: "You have to work a lot harder for less return. You get some pleasure, but a big brother official is always in the corner, watching. You have to do what you are told."

Abney, where the Chadwicks, the Salisburys and their animals live, has a population of fewer than 100 and is in on of the more beautiful corners of Derbyshire's Peak District. Charlotte Brontë used to visit nearby and found inspiration there for Jane Eyre.

But there is frugality too: Abney has no shop or pub, though it does have a community centre and a telephone box. It is a sought-after village for holiday homes, which may change hands for six-figure sums. That is why the Chadwicks' daughter, Claire, and her husband Robert and son Jack, who is nearly two, are still living at home with Viv and Andrew.

Bellis, now 30, grew up on a farm in Devon and still keeps a few animals of her own. She offers free labour and mucking in, in exchange for freedom to snap away. She has spent much of her career so far chronicling disappearing ways of life in Britain and in the world's poorer countries.

"The Chadwicks and the Salisburys," she says, "live and work in stunning surroundings. But if you get closer, the reality is not that pleasant. Look through the farm window and the people are tired of working for next to nothing. You can't eat beautiful scenery and sheep don't pay the bills if the prices you get at the market are what you got 20 years ago."

Bellis and her 'subjects' all love their environment. But, she asks, while their farms may represent the wider population's dreams of rural life and our common heritage, at what price for the people who live an work on them? "The only reason small farms survive at all is because many hill farmers are as stubborn as the mule-faced sheep they breed", she says. "These farms have often passed on from one generation to the next. And so to be the one who gives it all up is not easy."

Andrew Chadwick has contemplated auctioning the whole lot off. "That," he says, "would put money in my pocket, but the rest of me would be empty. People leave the city to walk in these hills, but I don't just want to be a national park attendant. Hill farming should be worth more than that to people, but it isn't."

Sue Salisbury, who inherited the farm from her father, says the land in the Peaks has always been difficult to work. "We've been told to become more efficient, to produce more, to modernise, to survive. We've done that, but it isn't easy. I honestly think that we're no better off now than when my father was running it."

Andrew Chadwick adds philosophically that if people can buy cheaper food from abroad, that's what they will do. His wife says that last year they might have given up, but grandson Jack came along. "And that was something worth carrying on for."

 

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