Rachel Challoner

There were equal parts excitement and trepidation when I was asked to host the @FarmersOfTheUK Twitter account for a week in October 2016:  I had been following the account for several months and was always impressed (and, if I’m honest, slightly intimidated!) by the wealth of expertise out there – people whose families had been farming for generations, who were winning national shows with their livestock, who could reel off technical spec for farm machinery like a shopping list……..then there’s me, @barklandcroft, with my lack of any real agricultural experience but lots of cute pictures of caddy lambs and kittens.....would I be laughed off the account?

I took on my 40-acre croft on Fair Isle (the most remote inhabited island in the UK) in May 2015 – at the time with my then-partner but since July I have been running it on my own.  I don’t come from a farming background so it has been a steep, though enjoyable and rewarding, learning curve.  I currently have 45 sheep (mainly pure Shetland, though a handful of Shetland/Texel crosses, one Suffolk and one Cheviot), a grumpy Texel ram and a handful of hens, cats and dogs.  My land is a mixture of in-bye croft land, shared grazing and common grazing, on which my share of 20 hill sheep roam.

My aim for the account during my week was really to introduce people to Fair Isle, our community (there’s less than 50 full-time residents on the island), our crofting lifestyle and some of the challenges that come with being tenants of the National Trust for Scotland.  We’re such a small island (3.5m long x 1.5m wide) that most people have never heard of us, unless it’s to do with Fair Isle knitting, and I was really overwhelmed with the response I had from people who wanted to know more about the island and our farming practices here.

With no 3G on the island it was sometimes frustrating when I’d be working outside all day and unable to tweet anything till I got within wifi distance of a house, but the FOTUK followers were very patient.  Oh, plus the fact that we don’t have 24-hr electricity on the island – we only have power between 0730-2330hrs – so my tweets were limited to between those times, which meant that some mornings I’d have a mass of tweets to reply to!         

I’m so grateful for the opportunity to host the FOTUK account – realising that my tweets were reaching over 20,000 people really made me feel that I was helping to raise the profile of the island a bit and it was great to read that some folk were already making plans to visit Shetland and Fair Isle in the future.  If anyone is interested in finding out more about the island, there is a two-part BBC documentary showing on BBC1 Scotland at 2100hrs on Monday 28th November and Monday 5th December, called ‘Fair Isle: Living on the Edge’ – do give it a watch and let me know what you think!