Tourism, the way forward
Farmer Who Adapted
Michael McCarthy, formerly the Independent’s longstanding Environment Editor, now its Environment Columnist, is one of Britain’s leading writers on the environment and the natural world. He has won a string of awards for his work, including Environment Journalist of the Year (three times) and Specialist Writer of the Year in the British Press Awards in 2001. In 2007 he was awarded the Medal of the RSPB for “Outstanding Services to Conservation,” in 2010 he was awarded the Silver Medal of the Zoological Society of London, and in 2011 the Dilys Breeze Medal of the British Trust for Ornithology. In 2009 McCarthy published Say Goodbye To The Cuckoo (John Murray), a study of Britain’s declining migrant birds.
Saturday 10 July 1999
The 58-year-old Durham farmer suddenly found his raw materials dried up in the BSE crisis. Mr Wilkinson's 300 acre-farm at Newton Ketton, near Darlington, where he had spent all his life, took the calves at a month old and fattened them until 16 months for beef.
"We were buying Holstein calves from a dairy herd, about 400 a year," he said. "We had about 600 on the farm at any one time. But when the ban came in, the prices dropped by 25 per cent, and then they had to slaughter the calves.
"We thought it would only last a few months but it went on, until we were empty. We had no stock. We were wholly dependent on livestock so there was nothing we could do and in 1997 we sold the farm.
"The whole business of the ban left such a nasty taste in your mouth. There was so much irrational behaviour and no common sense being talked." Mr Wilkinson and his wife moved 20 miles west to the edge of the Yorkshire Dales and bought a smaller farm of 30 acres, at Hutton Magna near Richmond, where the stock would not be cattle, but visitors.
They have renovated the derelict farmhouse and have begun doing bed-and- breakfast, and are in the process of converting four rundown outbuildings into holiday homes.
"We had the advantage of living on our capital to do it," Mr Wilkinson said.
He misses the life he led before. "I'm very sorry. You have to be, when you've spent your life doing it. My wife Julie was more upset than me about it as she was the one that reared all the calves. I looked after the big cattle.
"But this will provide us with a future. We're in the English Tourist Board Guide for 2000 and we've already got a rating of four diamonds for bed and breakfast under their new scheme. I've always been a person looking to pioneer new things."
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