Richmond-based photographer David Ian Short has published a stunning new book focusing on a year of farming Swaledale sheep in a remote corner of the Yorkshire Dales. He spoke to Hannah Chapman

DAVID IAN SHORT is well-known as a local photographer, running the Richmond Station photography groups for beginners and experts, and exhibiting his work at Richmond Station, through Scottish Natural Heritage in Perth, and at the Joe Cornish Gallery in Northallerton. He has previously completed photographic projects with the Alvie estate in Aviemore and has run photographic holidays in Scotland, but his latest work was based much closer to home in Birkdale, the most northerly dale in the Yorkshire Dales National Park.

His book, Seasons on the Hill Farm, follows the Calvert family – Chris and Glenda at Pry House and Ray and Andrew at Hoggarths – who live and work in the dale, where they breed Swaledale sheep. The project came about quite by chance. Mr Short, who has a background in teaching and a geographer, already had a great interest in Swaledale from the points of view of natural and human history, as well as its stunning scenery and varied light in all seasons of the year.

His original inspiration came from the book Swaledale by Ella Pontefract and Marie Hartley, published in 1934, and when researching their work on Swaledale for a presentation he was putting together, he became fascinated by Birkdale as they they loved this high, remote area.

"I met Glenda Calvert when I was presenting my work on Ella Pontefract and Marie Hartley and Glenda was in the audience," says Mr Short. "I showed an images of a Swaledale farmer and Glenda piped up 'that’s my husband'. I expressed an interest in the life of hill farmers working in a remote environment and the book got off the ground."

So just what is so special about Birkdale?

"I love wild and remote places and the rounded topography of Birkdale was reminiscent of the Cairngorms were I have done a lot of photography in the past," says Mr Short. "Also Ella Pontefract and Marie Hartley loved the dale, in particular Stone House Farm in its fantastic location. I love the sights and natural sounds of this quiet dale at all seasons of the year."

Frosty Birkdale Picture: IAN SHORT

Frosty Birkdale Picture: IAN SHORT

The title of the book would suggest it took a year to source all the photographs, but Mr Short actually spent about three years photographing and talking to the Calverts – in all weathers.

As well as the family, the sheep are the stars of the show. "Swaledales are incredible animals, hardy and really hefted to the dale," says Mr Short. "I learned, as I say in the book, how dedicated the Calverts are to the health and well being of their flock, how they work as a fantastic team, each knowing what is to be done, how they cherished their dogs, and at busy times of the year Glenda(Chris's wife), Allison (Ray's wife) were of invaluable help at busy times. Glenda has a B&B and shepherds hut at Pry House, and Alison is a hospital nurse, and they have a wild campsite by the farm."

He also learned just how much the family love their work, despite the harsh weather at almost any time of year – and how highly organised they have to be.

A sheepdog keeps a vigilant eye on the flock Picture: IAN SHORT

A sheepdog keeps a vigilant eye on the flock Picture: IAN SHORT

As for a favourite image in the book, Mr Short says it is the photograph of Chris Calvert foddering sheep in a blizzard. "It shows the dedication to the animals – as well as the dedication of the frozen photographer," he adds.

His project was supported by the Yorkshire Dale National Park Sustainable Development Fund, and he says the authority really cherishes "this precious dale". In order to give back to those communities, profits from the book will go to charities in Swaledale and Birkdale.

  • Seasons on the Hill Farm costs £14.99 plus postage and packing from