Hill Farming: Change and Continuity

Hill farming

Sorcha Lewis spoke to a meeting of the Radnorshire Society on 18 May 2017 on hill farming in the beautiful Claerwen and Elan Valleys. Sorcha and her husband farm in the Elan valley where his family have farmed for generations. Sorcha’s intimate knowledge and love of the valleys also stems from her role as a Ranger, and until 2013, as Head Ranger for the valleys.

Throughout her talk, Sorcha emphasised the connections between farms and the families who worked on them and the landscape we see today. The coming of the dams and modern technologies have made a huge impact on the working methods but the underlying farming year remains the same.

The year still starts with the gathering of sheep off the hills. This is a job in which the scattered farmers come together and remains both a work and a social occasion. In earlier times gathering would have been done on horseback, now quad bikes are more common. Dogs remain very important. Shearing is now mechanised and needs only a handful of men compared with the many needed for hand shearing. Lambing is also carried out now with fewer workers.

Sorcha spoke movingly about the displacement of families and communities, as well as the loss of beautiful hay meadows, as a result of the construction of the dams. This she balanced by saying how the benefits of roads and railways reduced the isolation of the scattered farms and made life easier for those who remained.

Sorcha illustrated her talk with many photographs of farming families and farm work taken over the last hundred years. Together with letters and documents, plus some farm implements, she built up a detailed picture of farming life and of the day to day concerns of the farmers.
Her attentive audience left with an appreciation of the importance of recording the fascinating history of hill farming and of the previous generations whose work created the landscape we see today.