Proprietor of Dalton Moor Farm, and active member of the Green Recovery Action Network, Jenny Connor has scooped a raft of awards recognising the environmental achievements and credentials of her 24-acre farm holding located on the wild and windswept moorland in East Durham.
Jenny shares her business journey story so far and how her approach ‘earth care’, ‘fair share’, ‘people care’ is at the heart of everything she does.
“The farmhouse is around 400 years-old and the land was worked as arable farmland; I watched the increasingly intensive farming after I moved there in 1992,” Jenny recalled, “and there was so much spraying of chemicals, pesticides, and fertilisers – the farmer even sprayed me and the dogs if we happened to be on any of the footpaths at the wrong moment. Where there were hundreds of birds and small mammals in the early 1990s, they all but disappeared by the mid-2000s.”
After initially buying 14 acres of the agricultural land around the farmhouse in 2011, Jenny and her husband set about protecting the land from vehicle trespass and wildlife poaching with fences, ditches, embankments, and hedges surrounding both the boundaries and within the farm to divide up the land into smaller paddock and orchard areas.
They planted traditional hedge species such as Hawthorn and Blackthorn, along with native or naturalised species including Rowan, Hazel, Guelder Rose, Sea Buckthorn, Crab Apple, Silver Birch, Alder, Grey Alder, Black Poplar, Wild Roses and many more.
“I wanted the hedges to be fruitful as well as creating windbreaks and privacy,” she explained, “and provide highways of sanctuary for wildlife, with shelter and food on hand, plus enough for me to harvest as a farm product.”
“For the land between the hedges, I watched and learned for the first couple of years to see what was there and to learn from nature. I think that approach to ‘earth care’, ‘fair share’, ‘people care’ is now given the posh name of ‘permaculture’ and this is how we live and what we do at Dalton Moor Farm.”
Now, a decade later, the land has transformed and is unrecognisable. “The hedges and trees have been key to the improvements,” Jenny commented, “they are maturing really well, and I never cease to be amazed at how the plants grow and develop. We are seeing more and more species of animals and plants re-appearing.
“Within the ‘paddocks’ created by the hedges we leave much of the grass long for most of the year, with a cut in early spring. This means wildflowers can proliferate along with grasses, which then flower and seed. This supporting lots of insects, birds, and others with hidey-holes, nests, and burrows in the grass.”
And Jenny’s orchard yields a variety of apples, plums, gages, pears, and apricots from which they press for juice, including their award-winning apple juice, plus cider, cider vinegar, and preserves.
Each year an increasing number of bushes, small trees, and lots of herbs appear in a 10-acre field that Jenny designated for rewilding. She said: “This doesn’t mean I’m just leaving it alone; it means I am working with nature to shape the landscape. Much of the area is allowed to grow long grass and wild plants, with patches of Bramble, swathes of Willowherb, and lots of other wildflowers.”
Last year Jenny opened the School of Sustainable Living and Wellbeing. It aims to empower people through skills and knowledge to live sustainably, reconnect with nature, and to live happier, healthier and more rewarding lives being ‘kind to all kinds’. Their courses and events, some in partnership with Northumbria University, Durham University Students, Open Wilding, Houghall College and Teaching Trees, will provide educational opportunities for students of all ages.
“Ultimately we want to bring people closer to nature, and empower them to become independent, curious, self-reliant and move away from the heavily-dependent, plastic-packed, environmentally damaging, emotionally-unrewarding, throwaway society that has become the norm.”
The work doesn’t stop there, and Jenny has a raft of future plans in place including the introduction of newt ponds, wooden tee pee accommodation, a café and farm shop, and taking wild free food to communities in an effort to avoid food poverty.
She said: “We will continue to work with nature to nurture our farm and grow and harvest as much food as we need to support ourselves and our products for sale.
“As a leader I have always believed in leading by example, and that is what I intend to continue to do. We all must start thinking about the difference between what we ‘need’ and what we ‘want’ or ‘think we need’. We need to consume less meat, less dairy, less fossil fuels, less plastic, less new clothes, less chemicals, less food and less ‘stuff’ in general.
“And we need to be honest about what makes us happy. Getting back in touch with nature, being kind, helping and supporting others, crafting something then sharing with friends or family all provide a sense of wellbeing that is much more lasting than the latest colour nail varnish, plastic balloons, or shoes that will only be worn once then discarded.”
Jenny concluded: “I have to pinch myself to remind myself that all the wonderful changes here are real and I am stunned that I managed to create all this ‘verdant splendour’, with help from Mother Nature, my husband, and our farm-lad Philip, amongst others.
“The real reward is walking out every day and looking in awe at what surrounds me and being able to eat my way around the farm while out walking with the dogs and our wildlife. It really doesn’t get much better.”