Nibthwaite Grange Farm is an upland farm in the Lake District National Park.
The farm is run by John Atkinson with the help of his father Bill and his partner Maria Benjamin. The Atkinson’s have farmed Nibthwaite Grange for six generations and have lived in the surrounding area since records began six hundred years ago.
The farm specialises in conservation grazing, keeping traditional breeds of livestock including some rare breeds of cattle and sheep.
Farm Diversification has become an important part of the farm business. Maria manages the diversification side of the business which includes four accommodation sites (Dodgson Wood), three of the sites are owned by the National Trust and there is a small barn conversation on the farm. Shear Delight is their wool brand, The Soap Dairy is a soap and skincare business and they sell their meat to private customers, young local butcher (Crakeside Meats), an ethical co-operative in Jersey (Scoop) and occasionally to The Old Stamp House restaurant and The Farmer’s Arms. Maria has just stared a new business Lake District Tweed.
For the farm to thrive and not be reliant on farm subsidies, John and Maria felt it was important to put their energy into growing relevant small businesses that enhance the work they do on the farm. They see it as going ‘back to the future’. Small family mixed farms were the norm and it is only in more recent years that farming has specialised and intensified to its detriment. Monocultures can look impressive but they can be fragile. Imitating the diversity and complexity of the ecosystem in a farm or any business system, can create a more resilient culture. They have certainly found that in their thriving business strands. They also find it more interesting to work in a more diverse and creative way.
John and Maria have been asked to talk at a number of events and in print about their way of working as an example of how other farms might look at improving their business incomes. You can see these examples from the past few years on their Press page.
About the Farm
The land borders the nationally important Dodgson Wood SSSI and has several rare species of fauna and flora which we are helping to protect, such as the Netted Carpet Moth.
There are 40 Suckler Cows, which are a mix of pedigree Luings, Galloways and Whitebred Shorthorns, as well as Highland and Blue Greys with calves kept as replacements, sold through local livestock auctions, or direct to the consumer through meat boxes.
They keep around 450 ewes, the main flock is Lairg type Cheviots with small flocks of rare breed Castlemilk Moorits and rare breed Teeswaters. Most of the ewes are bred pure to rear replacements for themselves and other breeders and the rest are sold for meat either direct or to local butchers.
The farm and the moorland are in the Higher Level Stewardship Scheme and the cattle are also used for conservation work in the surrounding woodlands for Natural England, The National Trust and RSPB. They also graze our cattle on conservation ground for Hay Bridge Nature Reserve and for the Friends of the Lake District.
The farm is a mixture of small fields and meadowland next to the River Crake and Coniston Water with native woodland on the lower valley slopes and upland heath on the intake and fell. There are many rare and interesting plants, butterflies and moths as well as abundant bird life. The farm is home to Barn and Tawny Owls, Buzzards, Red Kites, Kestrals, Sparrowhawks and Peregrine Falcons. In the lowland areas Partridge have recently been spotted and Yellowhammers and Gold Finches have increased in number. In the woods there are green and spotted Woodpeckers, Jays, Tree creepers, Red Squirrels and the very illusive Pine Marten. There are Sand Pipers, Oystercatchers, Cormorants, Swans and occasional Osprey. On the uplands there are Wheatears, Meadow Pipits, Curlew, Snipe and Woodcock, Weasels, Roe and Red Deer.
The farm has several nationally important species including some of the most northern examples of Small Leaved Lime, several stands of Juniper, Atlantic Oak Woodland and Touch-me-not-Balsam the food plant of the red data species Netted Carpet Moth.
The name Nibthwaite is of Norse origin and means small hut or “bothy” in a clearing. Both the original old farmhouse at Nibthwaite Grange and the original walls at Park-a-Moor were built as part of the land holdings of the monks based at Furness Abbey in the Thirteenth century. The land was emparked in 1339 to form a Herdwyck or sheep pasture.
During the dissolution of the monastaries, Nibthwaite was kept on by the church as a Grange for the monastery and was eventually sold by James 1st.
The area was heavily used for smelting ore from the Coniston fells from as early as the bronze age using charcoal made from the local woods. Several very early bloomeries and charcoal pitsteads can be found in the fields. This practice flourished right through the middle ages and was at its height in the eighteenth century.
There is a lot of access land around the farm which also borders several very popular green roads, bridleways and footpaths.