|Since August 2008, Somerset
couple Chris Drewett and Veronica Bowden have been living and farming at
West Shute Farm in Huish Champflower, having applied
retrospectively to West Somerset Council for temporary planning
permission to live on the farmland that they love. Planning permission that they are still waiting to receive.
They started with
half a dozen alpacas, a mobile home and a storage container on a 3.4
acre field, which is part of 53 acres of land part owned by Veronica,
and part owned by her father Major George Bowden, who farmed 100 acres
while living at Higher Shute Farm between 1969 and 2000.
When he retired from farming, he sold Higher Shute Farm and 40 acres
of land to a couple from London in order to be able to buy a retirement
house for himself and his wife Elizabeth in Devon.
He retained 53 acres and rented it to a tenant sheep farmer with whom
he had been share farming for many years.
Over time, he has been handing over his farmland to his daughter to
help her and her partner with their farming business. Veronica currently
owns 15 acres of this farmland.
Chris says “We thought long and hard about which livestock to choose
to start with, and thought that alpacas, despite how expensive they are
to buy, would offer us the best way forward on our starting field until
we had more land available for us to expand our choices of livestock as
our farm grows”.
“We studied alpacas closely and took courses on raising these
wonderful animals before we bought our first small herd”. “Since then,
we have also taken a shearing course as well, but at the moment we still
hire a professional shearer as we are not yet confident enough to do it
Over the last two years, Veronica and Chris have been concentrating
on breeding their herd of alpacas with the best bloodlines they could
afford, to build up a good quality herd of 22 alpacas which included the
purchase of two stud males. One, a brown coloured stud, who is called
Wellground Jason has won awards at some of the top alpaca shows in the
country, and has sired some beautiful cria (baby alpaca) for the couple.
The other alpaca, Penlan Patcho, who is pure white, and was unproven until
this year, has helped sire some stunning cria. Both studs are also
advertised on a website called alpacaseller.co.uk where their stud
services for hire are advertised, along with some of the couples
breeding females which they wish to sell.
It’s been pretty tough for the couple up in the Brendon Hills. They
have no mains electricity, so they use a generator to charge batteries
to supply their power, and have to hire a portaloo until they are
granted temporary planning permission, at which point, they will be
allowed to add a septic tank which they were given permission to do by
the Environment Agency.
They have also had to survive the coldest two winters seen in the
area for years, with only a small log burner to keep them warm. But,
they were kept busy digging the snow out of the alpaca shelters to keep
them as warm and dry as possible, and, between jobs, took advantage of a
steep field to let off some steam by tobogganing down the hill on old
animal feed bags. They were also joined by a few locals, including a
farmer and his son who enjoyed coming up daily to snowboard down the
Sadly, this summer, their barn was broken into and their quad bike
was stolen, but the local police force were wonderful, and managed to
locate and arrest one of the men responsible for the break-in, but
unfortunately, the quad bike has not yet been recovered.
As a result of this, they bought a couple of dogs to guard the barn.
Recently, they have added 250 free range hens to their farm to sell
eggs, and, over the last month have been doing really well, selling eggs
to local pubs, shops and businesses, as well as from a box at the end of
their lane where local residents can buy fresh eggs direct from the
Veronica said “Our egg business is getting better every week as we
find new local customers who want to buy free range, locally produced
eggs. A few of them have come to us as a result of word of mouth from
other customers, who have all commented on how tasty our eggs are. We
think that because their water supply is from our own spring and not
from mains water, that it makes their eggs even tastier”.
It all sounds wonderful, except for a dark cloud that has been
hanging over their heads for the last two years.
A small group of the local residents did not want Chris and Veronica
living on their farmland, and so objected to their retrospective
planning application, and for the last two years, the couple have been
fighting a long battle with these residents and some members of the
The council's own planning officer recommended their applications for
approval twice in a row, but the council decided to ignore his advice.
Chris and Veronica said “This battle to live on our own farmland has
cost us thousands of pounds that we had put aside to spend on the farm
and our livestock, and instead it is being spent on legal fees to save
our farm and secure our livelihood”.
An enforcement notice to remove their mobile home from the site, that
they had managed to hold off for the last two years has finally caught
up with them, and they are being forced to move it by September 17th,
even though they have a current planning application that is due to be
heard at the end of the month, to discuss the couples requirements.
Which hopefully, will give them what they wanted at the start... a three
year trial period to prove that their business is viable.
But, all is not lost. They have received many letters of support from
the local area, a petition in favour of their farm application is doing
the rounds in the area and is filling up with loads of signatures from
local people, farmers and businesses.
They have written a couple of times to their MP Ian Liddel-Grainger,
and hope that he will support them.
Chris also wrote to The Minister of Agriculture, and looks forward to
a positive response soon.
Veronica and Chris also wrote to the office of HRH The Prince of
Wales, who is a major supporter of new and traditional farm development
and enterprise in the countryside, and were pleasantly surprised to get
a letter from his personal secretary in which she passed on His Royal
Highnesses best wishes and hopes for the future for their farm.
Two recent newspaper articles in The West Somerset County Gazette and
The West Somerset Free Press also put a positive spotlight on their
With all the extra local support they are getting, Veronica and Chris
are hopeful that they will finally be given their temporary planning
permission, and can finally get on with their lives.
Chris said “We would like to thank everyone who has helped and
supported our farm over the last two years. All the people who have come
and visited our farm to have a friendly chat, everyone who has come to
buy eggs from the end of our lane, including a few groups of ramblers
using the nearby public footpaths who have popped in to see us on their
Veronica added “We are looking forward to having a long and happy
life here at West Shute Farm, doing what we love ... farming.
Veronica's contact details can be found
7th Sept 2010