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Meet Farmer Mark and family

Farmer Mark Banham has been looking after sheep for over thirty years, ever since he helped out on the neighbouring farm to his childhood home in a small Sussex village.

Mark had a keen interest in natural history and wildlife during his childhood years, when he looked forward each week to the local natural history club meeting, and this developed into a passion for the traditional British countryside and its natural inhabitants.
After working as a shepherd/stockman for several years, Mark decided to pursue a career in farm management, undertaking a course at the Surrey County Agricultural College, Merrist Wood. Upon his successful graduation, Mark held several full shepherd positions, including Head Shepherd of the Knepp Castle estate near Horsham, Sussex, which carried 2200 breeding ewes plus a milking flock.
In 1989, Mark started his own business with 250 ewes and lambs, and a contract fencing and shearing service. A few years later, Mark spent 6 months working in New Zealand as a sheep shearer.

It was as a fencing contractor that Mark stumbled upon Shabden Park Farm in 1994, when he was asked to quote for fencing for the new farm and Countryside Stewardship Scheme. It was Mark's first view of the Shabden valley which inspired him to apply for the tenancy of the new farm, relishing the opportunity to create and manage a traditional chalk downland farm, all the more worthy for its proximity to London.
Mark came to Shabden Park Farm in 1995, bringing his flock and business and, over the past 10 years, Mark has patiently and delicately restored the traditional landscape of the Shabden estate and recreated the diminishing chalk grassland habitats of many plants and animal species.
And with continuous management, we hope to encourage to return more species lost from the area through intensive farming, and to sustain this vulnerable piece of traditional countryside for quiet enjoyment and promoting environmentally-sustainable farming.

Mark's great hobby is sheep dog trialling, and he has been competing since 1986. Mark has bred and trained sheep dogs and supplied them to farmers all over the country and is recognised as a judge across Europe and America. You'll often see Mark on the farm with his border collie sheepdogs, checking the sheep and cattle.

Mark showing visitors newly hatched goslings

 

Mark shearing in New Zealand

 

Mark enjoys checking the sheep on horseback


Kirstie came to live with Mark on the farm in 2003 and started helping out with the animals. They married in 2008.

Having always had a passion for the countryside and an interest in butterflies and dragonflies, she and Mark had alot in common. Before long, Kirstie made the decision to work full-time on the farm and brought her 'skills' in web design and office organisation to the business. In 2004, together they started up the direct meat sales, taking the meat to farmers' markets in London and Surrey every weekend. In November 2007, after a few years of delivering boxes of meat to local customers, Kirstie put lots of pressure on everyone when she realised that 1st December was a Saturday, and the perfect day to open a farm shop! Four weeks, Mark's builder brother working long hours, and some frantic equipment-buying and installing later, Back to Nature Farm Shop opened.

Kirstie organises the administrative side of the business, which is very varied and includes financial records, Defra forms and surveys, livestock records, marketing, even making notices and shop price tickets. She also delivers our meat to local pubs and restaurants.

Kirstie hosts educational visits to the farm by schools, cubs, brownies and other groups, and is accredited as a farm visit host. Find out more about educational visits to the farm.

Children Sam and Tui (right) lend a hand at our farmers' markets and open days. They are always willing to talk to visitors about our animals on farmers' market days.


Kirstie on a farm walk

 

Mark and Kirstie got married on the farm

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