Five years after her death, Hannah Hauxwell’s epic story lives on through a Durham Wildlife Trust conservation project, on the land where the ‘Daughter of the Dales’ captured the hearts of the nation. PETER BARRON visited Hannah's Meadow

A SOLITARY curlew soars silently in a cloudless sky overhead, while a hare breaks cover and slaloms through the swathes of tall grasses and flowers that stretch towards the distant hills. Welcome to the beauty and tranquility of Hannah’s Meadow.

Dotted with the predominant yellow of countless meadow buttercups, this stunning landscape is named in honour of Hannah Hauxwell, the lone Teesdale farmer, whose daily battles against poverty and the elements captivated the nation from the moment she appeared on our television screens in 1972.

Too Long A Winter was the name of the first of several documentaries that propelled Hannah into the spotlight. Produced for Yorkshire Television by Barry Cockcroft, it chronicled the story of one woman’s resilience as she relied on traditional methods to farm the land, and a few cows, without electricity or running water.

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Hannah had been left to cope alone when her parents and uncle died, running the farm between 1961 and 1988, by which time public donations had flooded in to make her life more comfortable.

After finally leaving her beloved Low Birk Hatt Farm, in Baldersdale, she moved into a cottage in Cotherstone, then a care home in Barnard Castle, before she died in a West Auckland nursing home in January 2018.

But, half a century on from Too Long A Winter, and amid glorious June sunshine, Hannah’s inspirational story lives on thanks to a conservation project, passionately and expertly managed by Durham Wildlife Trust, on what is regarded as one of Britain’s most important Upland Hay Meadows.

Back in 1988, when Hannah stopped farming her lonely corner of the North Pennines, the trust bought three of her fields and a haybarn, while her farmhouse, nestling by Blackton Reservoir, was sold off separately, along with a few more fields.

Since then, the trust has managed Hannah’s Meadow as a nature reserve, and the latest stage of its conversation project is to make the site of special scientific interest more accessible to the public in time for this summer.

“What we have here is very special,” says Mark Dinning, a farmer’s son, who is the trust’s Head of Conservation. “Hannah didn’t know that what she was doing for all those years – using traditional farming methods – was conservation. She was just doing what she knew, and what she’d always done. Now, it’s up to us to make sure her incredible legacy is preserved for other generations to enjoy.”

Over the last 75 years, it’s a shocking fact there has been a 97 per cent decline in Britain’s meadows, along with their plants and invertebrates. But, thankfully, Hannah’s Meadow is thriving, with 120 types of plants, such as wood cranesbill, rough hawkbit, lady’s mantle, ragged robin, and devil’s-bit scabious.

Lapwings and skylarks – species that have gone into decline because they’re more reliant on such habitats – are among the birds breeding on the site, along with redshank, snipe, oystercatchers, barn owls, kestrels, swallows, house martins and many more.

A host of butterflies include the meadow brown and the common blue, while at night, bats hunt flying insects. Indeed, the five-acre hay meadow contains approximately one tonne of insects – roughly the weight of a small car.

When Durham Wildlife Trust first purchased the site, it renovated a hay barn, and erected interpretations to explain the importance of the habitat. Now, the trust’s latest project includes refreshing those interpretations, putting in board-walks to improve accessibility, and creating a mile-and-three-quarters circular walk, in partnership with Northumbrian Water, with way-markers featuring Hannah’s cheery face.

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The hay barn – named Hannah's Barn – has been turned into a mini museum, with information boards telling the story of Hannah’s life and her methods of farming, and highlighting the wildlife that lives on the site. Traditional farming implements are on display, and there’s even a hay meadow board game for visitors to play.

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The work has been funded through the Farming in Protected Landscapes programme, which is part of the Department for Environment Food and Rural Affairs’ Agricultural Transition Plan.

“It’s all about giving people more access to a magical space while educating them about its importance as a place where traditions are being maintained, so that such a rich variety of plants and wildlife can thrive,” says Mark.

And the even better news is that the goodness of Hannah’s Meadow is being spread further afield thanks to the Coronation Meadows project – a partnership between conservation charity, Plantlife, and The Wildlife Trusts – which has just celebrated its tenth anniversary.

Ten years ago, the former Prince of Wales – now King Charles – launched the project to honour the 60th anniversary of the late Queen Elizabeth’s accession to the throne. The idea was to create new and restored meadows, using donor seeds from what was left of ancient and traditional meadows.

Hannah’s Meadow was chosen as a donor site, with seed being taken from it and sown at a receptor site at Aller Gill, near Stanhope, in Weardale, in 2016.

“As well as conserving habitats, we also need to preserve genetic diversity by creating other meadows, using the seed from local sites,” says Mark.

“It means that Hannah’s legacy is not only continuing to grow in Teesdale, but spreading across to Weardale too.”

So many upland hay meadows have been lost, but perhaps the finest – the one that Hannah farmed – is far from lost. Thanks to the dedication of Durham Wildlife Trust, it’s being discovered by people coming from far and wide.

“We’re very proud of what’s been achieved here, and we see more and more people wanting to come to see where Hannah lived and farmed,” says Mark. “When lockdown restrictions eased, three generations of a family from Essex made the journey. People thought ‘life’s too short – let’s go and see this magical place’. It’s become a kind of pilgrimage.”

At the entrance to Hannah’s Meadow, there’s an introductory information board, telling of her life, and featuring an easy-to-follow map of the newly created walk. It includes a quote from Hannah, taken from the book, Daughter of the Dales, that followed her television fame:

“To me, there’s nowhere like it and never will be. This is my life – my world.”

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Hannah is laid to rest in the cemetery at Romaldkirk, a few miles from her beloved Low Birk Hatt. She would surely have approved of the way her world is being shared.

Life grows on.

  • Members of the public are welcome to visit Hannah’s Meadow all year round, but to see it in all its glory, the advice is to go before July 20 when the hay meadow will be cut. Cars should be left at Balderhead Reservoir car park, from where you can follow the marked route as shown on the sign, or walk back to the road, turn right, and enter Hannah’s Meadow through a gate on the right.
  • To find out more about the work of Durham Wildlife Trust, please go

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