The major questions farmers have asked us are set out below. If you don’t find the answer you need, please contact us.

If I’d like express interest in joining SWEF, what do I do?

You can fill in our Expression of Interest form here.

How do I get more details on the financial benefits?

Contact us and we’ll answer your question by email or call you back, as you wish.

Who is on the Steering Committee?

Currently it comprises:

  • James Alderson, Land Agent based at Hawes Auction Mart, Wensleydale
  • Stephen Allison, Swaledale Farmer
  • Jonathan Baltesz, Member of Reeth Sporting, Reeth Estate
  • Anna Crowther, Managing Agent, East Arkengarthdale
  • Philip Metcalfe, Swaledale Farmer
  • Dick Murphy, Managing Agent, Gunnerside Estate (Swaledale)
  • Tom Orde-Powlett, Castle Bolton Estate
  • Stuart Raw, Wensleydale Farmer
  • Linda Rukin, Swaledale Farmer
  • Phil Scott-Priestley MRICS, Managing Agent, Grinton and Reeth Estates (Swaledale)
  • Adrian Thornton-Berry, Wensleydale Farmer and Estate Owner
  • Mark Willoughby, Wensleydale Farmer
  • Teresa Dent, CEO, Game & Wildlife Conservation Trust
  • Lucinda Douglas, Director of the North region of the CLA and family farm in Wensleydale 
  • Lindsey-Anne Murfin, Agent & Group Secretary NFU Mutual North Riding – covering Wensleydale and Swaledale
  • Christopher Sparrow, MD, Natural Capital Advisory

What is it modelled on? Has this been done before?

The first Environmental Farmers Group (EFG) was set up in the Avon catchment in Hampshire and Wiltshire. That group started to work together in May 2021 and launched as a cooperative on 3 May 2022. 162 farmers have signed an expression of interest and 101 of them have signed up as fully fledged members. The EFG is now expanding into its neighbouring catchment, the Test & Itchen. The Hampshire Avon EFG has already secured income for members from a local environmental trade of £1m and has more in the pipeline. It has also attracted grant funding of over £100,000 since launch.

The second, Peakland Environmental Farmers (PEF), was the first upland one, launched 17 February 2023. 67 farmers covering 34,000 hectares have expressed interest in joining.

Members of the SWEF Steering Committee heard about PEF, and having spoken to them decided they would like to try something similar in Swaledale & Wensleydale. The Steering Committee first met on 23 November 2022.

SWEF will be the second upland Environmental Farmers group.

Who can join the group?

Any individual farmer or moorland manager who has day-to-day control over the management of land within the proposed boundary of the SWEF.

I am a farm tenant. Can I join SWEF?

Yes, if you have day-to-day control of the management of your land. You can express interest now with no further obligation. If you join as a member in due course, you will probably need to notify your landlord and any other occupier who has some management control of your land. 

Can common land be included in SWEF?

Yes, a Commoners Association (this may already be set up under an existing Countryside Stewardship Scheme) can become a member, as well as the owner of the common.  

How does SWEF fit in with existing Farmer Groups?

The existing Groups and their facilitators are the local enhancers and guardians of the environment, as expressed in their everyday farming activities, and in their chosen Agri-Environment Scheme plan.

Will SWEF result in less food production, or make it less important?

The aim of SWEF is to encourage good environmental delivery alongside food production. How individual farmers decide to balance those two objectives moving forward will be up to them.

If I would like express interest in joining SWEF. What do I do?

You can fill in our Expression of Interest Form. We will also have paper copies available at the farmer meetings. 

How will I know what’s going on once I register interest?

We will have a meetings of all the farmers and upland managers who have registered interest on 16 May at Hawes Pantry, 17 May at Buck Hotel Reeth and 18 May at Rugby Club Leyburn. At those meetings we will explain how we expect SWEF to move forward and will be able set out much more clearly what the benefits will be if you decide to join.

What will it cost me?

Nothing for submitting an expression of interest. We will be applying to the Yorkshire Dales National Park (FIPL – Farming in Protected Landscapes) and other sources for funding to help with set up. After that the SWEF cooperative will either be funded through a small annual subscription from its members (the cooperative board will decide how that is set between larger and smaller farmers) and/or from grant funding. Assuming green finance arrangements emerge, the cooperative will keep a small percentage of any funds received for its own administration. Remember, this is a members’ cooperative operating for the benefit of members so any amounts retained for the running of the cooperative will be fully transparent and open to scrutiny.

What will the structure be?

Legal advice has been sought and the recommendation is to set this up as a company limited by guarantee under a cooperative structure i.e. owned by members, benefiting members. This ensures a democratic governance (important for a membership of both small and large farms and estates).

Unlike many cooperatives, the members of SWEF will not be asked for a capital contribution.

Each member will have one vote regardless of size of holding.

The SWEF Steering Committee will be made up of farmer and moorland manager members (giving fair representation across member types) and professional members, but the latter have no voting rights.

The fact that it is a cooperative means that it is under the control of the very members for whom it will provide benefits.

Who else is involved?

The Game & Wildlife Conservation Trust (GWCT, formerly the Game Conservancy) is helping to convene SWEF and will lead on the conservation plan, working closely with the members, local Farmer Cluster facilitators and other environmental advisers used by the members.

GWCT’s Natural Capital Advisory (NCA, a trading subsidiary of GWCT, the charity) is providing the administration and will help broker trades. The profits from Natural Capital Advisory go back into the charity.

Both the National Farmers Union and the Country Landowners Association support the development of this type of environmental cooperative and are on the Steering Committee of SWEF. They believe this will be a good way for groups of farmers and land managers within a particular area to:

  • Maximise the benefits they can derive from the new Environmental Land Management (ELM) scheme.
  • Take advantage of new green finance opportunities.

Are there any constraints?

For the business model to work efficiently, members commit to doing environmental trades only through SWEF. This is similar to grain cooperatives, which have similar advantages of scale and negotiating power. It is attractive for people who need environmental goods from farmers to deal with a single point of contact, with the economies of scale that will result from this.

Can I join SWEF later – say in a year’s time?

Yes, but the terms may be less favourable.

Can I leave the co-op if I do not wish to continue?

Yes, you can leave, though you do have to give notice and there are conditions in the detailed members’ agreement.