Photo diary of six months on a Grisedale valley hill farm

Lancashire photographer Neal Andrews spent more than six months recording life in the raw on a hill farm in the Grisedale Valley

Set in the Grisedale Valley, Braesteads has been a working hill farm for more than 200 years, but today it is managed by Paul Renison, a modern-day farm manager and shepherd.

He lives there with his partner, Nic, and their baby daughters, Belle and Poppy. Along with his farm hand, Andrew, and a team of very capable sheep dogs, Paul manages a livestock of more than 1,000 sheep and herds of Simmental and Belted Galloway cows.

Like many farms they have diversified by converting part of the farm to a B&B, exploiting the farm’s location on the popular Coast-to-Coast route. As a keen fell walker, I was initially drawn to this project because I often wondered how such places survived.

Anecdotally, it is thought that since the mid-19th Century hill farms in this part of the world have declined by about three quarters, and today they face a number of challenging issues.

These include an ageing workforce and loss of skills which is accelerated by rural depopulation, youth apathy and the high cost of farmhouses and land.

If that were not enough, there is also the constant threat of livestock disease, the impact of regulation, tourism and other economic pressures such as low incomes and general economic hardship.

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These factors threaten the sustainability of many hill farms, but they also impact upon the fabric of the rural communities and on the future maintenance of a landscape shaped � by farming, a landscape that tourists demand and expect.

This project was framed by the annual lambing cycle, which is, afterall, the farm’s raison d’�tre. But it is not just about that. It is about the relationship between man, animals and the landscape.

It is about the seasonal rhythms and routines of hill farming, and the hard work and dedication that is required. It is about the beauty and dominance of a rural landscape, set against the day-to-day gritty realities of agrarian lifestyles that are less well represented.

Above all, this project is a personal tribute to a farming family that is passionate about improving both the landscape and their livestock, preserving hill farming traditions and securing a sustainable future for Braesteads Farm, run by a family who have become my friends, and for whom I have the greatest admiration and respect.

Neal Andrews is a social documentary photographer based in Manchester.

This project was undertaken as part of his MA in Documentary Photography, in which he recently graduated from the University of Bolton.

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