WRITTEN and photographic portraits of the farmers, gamekeepers and conservationists who work on Ingleborough Common, Grassington Common and Brant Fell Common near Sedbergh are being exhibited at the Dales Countryside Museum in Hawes.

‘Labour of Love’ is a new exhibition by photographer Rob Fraser and writer Harriet Fraser, together, they run an environmental art and research practice near Kendal. The exhibition presents stories they have gathered during two years of meeting people who farm and manage commons in the Yorkshire Dales National Park as well as in Dartmoor, the Lake District and the Shropshire Hills.

Two of the standout stories at the exhibition are of George Hare, gamekeeper on Grassington Moor, and of Adrian Shepherd, head of land management at the Yorkshire Dales National Park Authority.

George is head gamekeeper of C& G Estates, which manages parts of Grassington Common and Consitone Moor as a shooting estate. He has been here for four years, working with two other full time gamekeepers.

"Our primary role is to look after the red grouse for shooting, and everything that comes with that. From February, March time we'll get a lot of waders turn up: lapwings, curlews, redshank, golden plover and oystercatchers - they'll all breed up here. Once the young have fledged, they’ll flock back up and migrate out again," he explains.

The majority of the ground-nesting birds that George talks about are categorised as red listed species by the International Union for the Conservation of Nature (IUCN) which means not only are they rare, but they’re at risk of extinction. "We have good populations of them, and they breed every year successfully. It's because they're allowed to breed, they don't get eaten," he says.

During their tour of Grassington Moor with George, Rob and Harriet describe seeing the 'tumbledown ruins of old lead mines' and in addition to grouse, they see 'kestrels, kites, ravens, wheatears, a marsh harrier, and, of course, sheep'.

George explains that sheep are part of the landscape. "They’re not good when heather is young but they do help to keep the heather from getting too big and dominating the moor."

The gamekeeper goes on to say that current grazing levels in the area are 'just about right' to keep the vegetation in a condition that suits both the sheep and the ground nesting birds. "In the past there was overgrazing, " George says, ‘but that was the case across the country and it’s changed now. A lot of people think that sheep and grouse don’t mix, but here we all get on ok."

Adrian Shepherd talks of how important the commons are because they contain the most important fells of northern England. Adrian has worked for the national park for 30 years, the last 12 as head of land management. His team works with farmers across the Dales, with private landowners and with organisations such as the National Trust and Natural England, “We couldn’t manage all these areas - the drystone walls, the scrub, the grasslands - without the farmers ... without them and their skills, the commons can’t continue. And neither can land management expertise that enables a better future: people are integral," he says.

The Labour of Love exhibition is part of ‘Our Common Cause: Our Upland Commons’, a three-year project led by the charity, Foundation for Common Land. As well as Rob and Harriet Fraser’s work, there are wild boar bones from Ingleborough and items from the museum’s permanent collection to see.

During a lecture at the museum in April, organised by Friends of the Dales Countryside Museum, Harriet and Rob revealed their approach to their ‘Commons Stories’ and ’Labour of Love’ project.

Harriet said: “For commoners there is a lot of uncertainty and threats to this way of life – and we’ve been cataloguing that.

“At the heart of our work is meeting people and listening to people. So I’m out and about with my microphone, Rob with his camera. And we learn from everyone we meet, whether we’re on a peat bog, or on the fell looking at dung beetles, or talking about management of the sheep, or talking to somebody from the National Trust about how to deal with the challenges we are facing. And we always have a bit of laugh. You’re never far away from a chuckle when you’re out with farmers. “Although the areas are geographically spread across England, a lot of the farmers know each other from the auction marts, from sheep and sharing bloodlines.”

Two of the standout stories presented at the exhibition are that of George Hare, gamekeeper on Grassington Moor, and of Adrian Shepherd, head of land management at the Yorkshire Dales National Park Authority. In the lecture, Rob said of his photographic technique: “I enjoy making people feel comfortable in their own space, standing where they feel like they are part of that landscape – and then press the button. It’s normally about a half a second exposure on my large format plate camera. Just for that fleeting moment they look into the camera, they look at you, from where they are.

“We keep using the word privilege. But it has felt like a privilege to spend time with people who have got this much attachment to these spaces.” Labour of Love can be seen at the Dales Countryside Museum, Hawes, which is open every day, from 10am to 5pm, until September 8.