The future of hill farming in Cumbria could be safeguarded, thanks to a new £430,000 centre of excellence.

The sheep husbandry centre is set to be built at Newton Rigg College’s Low Beckside Farm in Mungrisdale.

The training centre will be a national showcase for the best hill farming practices, provide the industry’s future workforce and leaders with key hill farming skills, and provide a focal point as a demonstration farm.

Work on the project will begin later this month and involves demolishing farm buildings, and constructing the steel portal frame centre with Yorkshire boarding and a fibre cement roof.

Additional work will see new areas of hardstanding to aid sheep handling, and improvements to the existing silage clamp.

Robinsons Scotland Ltd has been awarded the contract and work is expected to be complete by September, in time for the new college year.

The centre will be used throughout the year.

It will be the focus for the college’s lambing operations, a base for sheep shearing and for general sheep husbandry.

Alongside the specialist courses for students, the centre will host farm events and demonstration activities within uplands agriculture and sheep management to show best practice and encourage professional development.

Low Beckside Farm is home to two flocks, a Swaledale flock of 350 ewes which are hefted to the fell at Mungrisdale, and a draft flock (older ewes from the fell flock) which are kept on land at Low Beckside and Redmire.

Wes Johnson, campus principal, said the vision was for Newton Rigg to become the UK hub for training and education in uplands land management and sheep husbandry, which would not only benefit students but the UK hill farming industry as a whole.

He said: “This new centre will enable us to demonstrate the best modern hill farming practice with high standards of animal welfare and hygiene and provide the future workforce with key hill farming skills.

“The UK uplands are a vital part not only of our countrywide and heritage, but of British agriculture and this initiative will help ensure the future viability of this important sector.”

Newton Rigg is the only college in England to have its own hill farm, and it also hosts the National Centre for the Uplands.

It is part of York-based Askham Bryan College, which took over the running of Newton Rigg in 2011. Since then student numbers have increased year on year, particularly across the land-based courses.

The project has been supported by the Local Enterprise Partnership (LEP), through the Skills Funding Agency, and Cumbrian farmers have had input as members of the college’s Technical Advisory Group.

Support has also been given by the Cumbria Farmer Network, Lake District National Park, National Farmers Union, Country, Business and Landowners Association, and Cumbria Young Farmers Club.

Graham Haywood, director of Cumbria LEP, said: “A key strand of our strategic economic plan is to target investment to maintain and nurture a vibrant rural economy, and the development of the training centre at Newton Rigg will reinforce Cumbria’s reputation for excellence in uplands agriculture.

“Developing our expertise for land management and animal welfare opens up new opportunities for agriculture students to learn new skills, as well as helping to protect our hill farming heritage and contributing to environmental sustainability.”

The college has formed a technical advisory group to progress the initiative with several members from the Cumbrian farming community providing input.

David Lawton is an advisory group member and has years of experience as an upland hill farmer.

He said: “This is a unique development educationally and it is ideally placed to become a centre of excellence both regionally and nationally. It will, I’m sure, be warmly welcomed by the farming community both in Cumbria and across the country.”

Ryan Brown, managing director of Robinsons Ltd, added: “We understand the importance of investing in the next generation to ensure they have the tools to develop and be successful in this ever changing industry.

“Being able to provide the full project from start to finish ensures we are able to guarantee the quality of the work and the efficiency of the project.”

Farming and rural affairs editor