The creative thinking behind their farm diversification projects has won recognition for RBST Cumbria supporters Maria Benjamin and John Atkinson as they were named winners in the Cumbria Family Business Awards, announced in March.

The award was won for their enterprise Dodgson Wood, a family-owned business and the diversified part of Nibthwaite Grange Farm, which is run by John with the help of his father Bill, eldest son Tom and Maria. The name was chosen as the three eco-holiday sites that Maria and John run are based in and around Dodgson Wood, a SSSI (Site of Special Scientific Interest). Nibthwaite has been farmed by John’s family for six generations and to ensure that it is future-proofed and sustainable, they felt it necessary to develop new micro-businesses to run alongside the farm work. These consist of direct meat sales to private customers and restaurants, the sale of breeding animals, off-grid eco-holidays, wool and Jersey milk soap.

The farm specialises in conservation grazing, keeping traditional breeds of livestock, including a number of Watchlist breeds. Both farm and moorland are in the Higher Level Stewardship Scheme and the cattle are also used for conservation work in the surrounding woodlands for Natural England, The National Trust and RSPB.

Celebrating winning the Cumbria Family Business Award, Maria said: “We were delighted enough to be finalists in the Agriculture and Forestry section of Cumbria Family Business awards but absolutely thrilled to have won! It really means a lot to us to be recognised for our commitment to working rare and native British breeds on our farm. The judges loved our creative thinking in how we make the most of what we produce on the farm through diversification initiatives such as soap from our Jersey cow milk and breed-specific knitting wool. It feels great to be taken seriously as a business and I hope this award highlights that farming with rare and native breeds can be just profitable, if not more so, than the popular ‘commercial’ breeds.”

The awards ceremony was held at the beautiful Low Wood hotel in Windermere and the hosts were The Hairy Bikers. The presenters of the award were Sue Howorth of Cumbria Family Business Awards and Family Business Network and Dave Clarkson Family Business Network.


Maria is from Scotland and moved to the Lake District in 2010 after studying Fine Art at Goldsmiths College and working in London for 12 years. She worked as an artist, film maker, film editor and creative producer before joining John on his family farm in 2014 – and, she says, she hasn’t looked back. Her role on the farm includes running the accommodation sites, product development, marketing and sales. She says: “I am always thinking of ways to make the most out of what we have as I love where we live and what we do and want to share that passion in a tangible way. I make soap from our Jersey cow’s milk and we sell raw fleece, knitting wool and wool products from our flock of rare and native British sheep.” Maria is a member of the British Lop Pig Society, Castlemilk Moorit Sheep Society and Teeswater Sheep Society and Secretary for RBST Cumbria.


John has farmed in Nibthwaite for his whole life but has found his farming practice has changed over the years as he became more aware of and interested in conservation farming. He says: “I am passionate about producing the best quality meat in a natural and sustainable way. In my mind, this comes from animals being reared outdoors on permanent pasture providing a varied and wholesome forage.” John is a committee member for the Federation of Cumbria Commoners, the Dry Stone Walling Association and Whitebred Shorthorn Cattle Society. He is also a member of the Luing Cattle Society and the Castlemilk Moorit Sheep Society as well as being Chair of RBST Cumbria.