In a world where handshaking was discouraged but meeting with others was not – we find Dean John in the limestone uplands of Malhamdale – one of the furthest outposts of our region – the guest of farmer Neil Heseltine (pictured).
The visit came just one week before lockdown and provided a glimpse of a sometime idyllic, sometime inhospitable landscape and a way of life that has evolved through four generations of this farming family.
Neil and his family run a flock of 250 Swaledale Sheep and a herd of Belted Galloway, farmed as part of a conservation grazing scheme – as well as holiday accommodation. The breeds are hardy types that can cope with the extreme weather and marginal grasslands of the hills.
The fact finding trip was part of Ripon Cathedral’s continued efforts to support the rural community in the region.
The cathedral has brought together farmers, planners, bankers and stakeholders such as Yorkshire Water, the National Trust and the Yorkshire Dales National Park to look at issues such as the future of upland agriculture and the preservation of a landscape cherished by the nation.
Dean John is also Chair of North Yorkshire County Council’s Rural Commission which held its first virtual meeting this week. Its task is to provide an action plan and workable recommendations to maximise sustainability and create opportunities for our most rural communities to grow and prosper.
He said: “In these days of social isolation this photo from just a few weeks ago is a reminder that we still stand shoulder to shoulder with those who are working hard to sustain food production, rural communities and businesses across this region in these days of greater-than-usual challenge.
“The prayers of the cathedral community continue for the region, as does the work of the North Yorkshire Rural Commission and Ripon Cathedral’s Rural Forum.”
Canon Barry added: “In many ways the rhythm of the countryside and farming remain unaltered by the COVID-19 crisis; fields still need to be tilled, crops sown and tended, and livestock cared for.
“The flooding event in Swaledale last year reminded us all of the resilience and sense of community that already exist in the countryside that was so ready to respond. The church played its role in that crisis as it does in this one.
“The forum is gathering information from our partners in the countryside to assess the issues that the covid-19 pandemic will present to those who live and work in rural settings. It is only with this information that the forum can respond appropriately and effectively to be an advocate for the issues facing our rural communities.”