Dales farm rescued from tourism plan: National Trust pays pounds 534,000 to keep Upper Wharfedale farming tradition alive in the face of a threat from developers. Malcolm Pithers reports

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THE National Trust has paid more than pounds 534,000 to buy the last working farm in Upper Wharfe dale to prevent tourist development in one of the most beautiful parts of the Yorkshire Dales.

The trust said yesterday that it had reached agreement with the farmer, Maurice Metcalfe, 65, who has farmed in the Dales all his life. The price is one of the largest paid for such a property by the trust and guarantees that the farm buildings and 889 acres of land will not be used for holiday homes.

A new tenant farmer will now have to be found and the property, Heber Farm, which backs on to the village green at Buckden, will continue to be run as a hill farm. The sale includes two farmhouses, traditional farm buildings and land that rises from meadows near the river Wharfe to hill land next to Buckden Pike (2,304ft). The farm takes in a designated environmentally sensitive area of more than 100 acres. It also has shooting and fishing rights.

Originally, it was thought that the farm would be sold in at least 17 separate lots. An auction was to have been held today if a sale had not been agreed. It is the first time in 25 years that any farm in Buckden has been sold on the open market.

Heber Farm could not be better positioned, with its land taking in all but the peak of Buckden Pike, a favourite spot for walkers.

Local people and Mr Metcalfe feared that the sale would lead to yet more holiday homes being built. However, others say that the sale to the National Trust will prevent development in the dale for years to come. The trust would probably not have been able to buy the farm but for a legacy left by two West Yorkshire businessmen, Graham and David Watson.

For people who want to continue living there, numerous problems have to be overcome, not least the lack of low-cost housing. Some locals feel a private developer would have been able to convert the farm buildings into low- cost properties, but the reality is that developers would have turned the site into holiday letting homes.

Alister Clunas, the head warden on the National Trust's Upper Wharfedale estate adjoining the property, said: 'This farm and the area did have great development potential far more than the normal hill farm. The cost is, in a sense, the price of protection. It was really the threat of development which made the trust act.'

Dorothy Fairburn, the trust's land agent for Upper Wharfedale, said that buying the farm was of 'critical importance' in retaining hill farming in the dale. She added: 'If the farm had been converted into holiday cottages, the whole character of the place would have changed. This way, tradition will carry on.'

There is no doubt that the deal will help to consolidate land in the trust's care. The Trust already owns about 5,200 acres in the dale, with grazing rights over a further 2,000 acres. The estate has some of the finest features of dale landscape, including meadowland with about 100 barns, special limestone pastures and moorland. The estate is also criss-crossed with stone walls dividing eight farms and includes magnificent woodland, waterfalls and a former deer park.

For Mr Metcalfe the sale means that he and his wife Sylvia will now be able to spend time travelling abroad. He said: 'Life on a hill farm means working constantly, with few breaks, in all weather. I'm pleased that the farm will not be broken up and that a young man can now take over.'

(Photograph omitted)