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alpaca farmers  alpaca farm

An Alpaca Farm in the Brendon Hills

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 ourselves”.

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 hill.

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 farm.

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 planning council.

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 case.

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 country walks.”

Veronica added “We are looking forward to having a long and happy life here at West Shute Farm, doing what we love ... farming.


  • Chris and Veronica's contact details can be found here

  • wiveliscombe.info   -   7th Sept 2010

    alpacas in somerset


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