Exmoor Women in Farming group

Exmoor Women in Farming group

According to the Office for National Statistics, women make up less than a third of the farming community in the UK. But a scheme run by the Exmoor Hill Farm Network, supported by a grant from The Prince’s Countryside Fund, is working hard to change this.

The Exmoor Women in Farming Group was set up in 2014 and now has more than 150 women registered. They’ve organised over 40 events, from farm visits and tractor maintenance workshops, to trips to the Royal Highland Show. We spoke to Catherine Cowling, an active member of the group.

Catherine farms 240 sheep with her husband and son on Exmoor, and joined the group when it first started five years ago. “I don’t know how I came to go the first meeting, someone must have taken me – nothing like this existed before. It’s snowballed since then though, I’ve made so many more friends and met so many different people.

“The group is a lifeline for women farming on Exmoor. It’s a very good experience; I’ve gained more confidence, it gets you off the farm and meeting other like-minded women, people with similar interests. You can discuss issues or problems you’re facing, and it’s always heartening to realise you’re not the only one going through an issue.

The group offers women on Exmoor an opportunity to socialise, but also to further their knowledge – Katherine, the network coordinator, is always quick to set up meetings and lectures with experts on topics the group wants to learn more about.

Catherine told us: “We’ve had meetings on a huge range of topics, from bookkeeping, to first aid or food hygiene, or even medicine record keeping. It keeps you up to date with the legislation. The farm visits are fantastic as well – you pick up so many tips, including sometimes on how not to do things!

“As a family we’re always keen to learn, we’re also taking part in The Prince’s Farm Resilience Programme. Business skills haven’t always been my forte – I always say that if I wanted to work in an office I’d have become an accountant! But it’s important to take the time to think more about that side of the farm.

“The Women in Farming group is a really good avenue for learning, and for the social side of things. I think it’s particularly important for women as let’s face it, you’re often stuck on the farm with a lot of men.

“Alongside the sheep, I run a farmhouse bed and breakfast which keeps me very busy, working all hours, but the group is like being part of a big family and I’ve made so many friends. Before this when we went out it was my husband who knew everybody and talks to everybody. Now we go out and I know as many if not more people than him – I’m not sure if he likes it that much!”

Information on Catherine’s B&B, Combeshead Farm, can be found here. Image courtesy of Katherine Williams at the EHFN.