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Shepherd walks into new venture

A local shepherd who has written a series of guidebooks for walkers in Northumberland is just one of many North-East farmers who have diversified their business.

Farmers in the North-East made £23.8 million from new ventures such as tourism, sports and recreation last year, according to Government figures published this week. In England, farmers made a total of almost £300 million from such ventures.

Among the North-East’s entrepreneurial farmers who have already diversified is
Jon Monks, a shepherd on one of the farms on the National Trust’s Wallington Estate, who found time to establish a successful cottage industry by writing guides to walks in Northumberland, Cumbria and the Borders.

Much of his success is down to his willingness to grapple with the e-revolution. The Shepherds Walks website – www.shepherdswalks.co.uk – provides a shop window for the guides. Unlike most of the traditional walks guides, the Shepherd Walks are printed out on demand from regularly updated computer files.

Mr Monks told the Courant: “I’ve lived in Northumberland for 12 years and several years ago a group of friends visited and we went walking near Rothbury. I met the owner of a local hotel who was impressed by my knowledge of local walks and asked me to write some guides for her.”

“I’d written nothing since school. I did them but the woman had left her business and I was left with a lot of guides! I decided to create a website to sell them. And the site was recommended in the Radio Times, which is when it really started to take off.”

“I drew up a business plan and approached a professional web designer for the site. We now sell all over the world, and deal with four currencies on our website.”

“In the beginning our customers were roughly 75 per cent from our area, and 25 per cent from the rest of the country. Now they are 25 per cent from the North-East, 60 per cent from the rest of the UK, and 15 per cent from other countries, such as the US, Australia and New Zealand.”

In the past Defra has awarded funding to support Mr Monks continued marketing and distribution needs for his walking guides with a grant of £2,591.

Mr Monks said: “The grant Shepherds Walks received from Defra was invaluable to help a young business grow into the business it is today. At the time it was invaluable to establish Shepherds Walks in the market place.”

Defra offers a number of incentives to help farmers diversify, particularly the Rural Enterprise Scheme (RES). Since its launch in October 2000, grants worth over £34 million have been awarded under this scheme to assist farm diversification projects.

According to the latest figures, almost a third of farmers in the North-East and Yorkshire and Humberside are now diversifying. Around 370 farmers have gone into sport and recreation, more than 590 are running tourist ventures and over 300 are involved in processing and retailing.