What Hill Sheep Do For The UK
WHAT HILL SHEEP DO FOR THE UK
DEFRA explores with British Wool how sheep production is a necessity in upland management and hears about positive changes in the British Wool business.
British Wool recently welcomed a group of senior policy leaders and advisors from the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (DEFRA) to look at the important work carried out by sheep farmers in the UK on upland management. To explore the role of upland sheep production, the day started with the group visiting Hall Farm, Blubberhouses near Otley, a progressive hill farm, run by British Wool’s regional committee member for West Yorkshire, Nick Houseman. This was followed by a personal tour of British Wool’s headquarters and depot in Bradford to gain a first-hand perspective on the importance of its work and role within the sheep industry as a whole.
The twelve-person delegation included Roland Evans, Senior Policy Advisor, Livestock and Farming Productivity, Robin Manning, Trade Team Leader, Agriculture Policy and Trade Specialist and Janet Carr, Data Analyst, Sustainable Land Management and Livestock Farming Analysis and Evidence.
The group saw how Nick manages his flock of Swaledale, Bluefaced Leicesters and some North of England Mules on his 475 acre farm, which runs to 800ft. Nick runs the Swaledale ewes with a Bluefaced Leicester ram to produce the North of England Mule lambs which are then crossed with Texel x Beltex rams to produce prime lambs for meat production.
Commenting, British Wool Chairman, Ian Buchanan, said: “The aim of this visit was to highlight the fact that upland sheep farming is an essential part of the whole sheep industry. These producers not only supply the market with a niche meat product, they also provide breeding stock and genetics to the UK gene pool.”
“It is unquestionable that upland farmers like Nick play a vital role in looking after the upland landscape, whether for keystone species, habitats or for recreation, as well as protecting public goods such as water and carbon. Thanks must go to Nick for allowing DEFRA to visit his farm and see for themselves how upland farming and the environment work in synergy.”
The uplands are areas where farming activity is constrained by climate, soils and topography. Here in the UK, this land is classified as a Less Favoured Area (LFA), with the majority falling into the Severely Disadvantaged category. This land is commonly utilised for grazing breeding hill sheep and serves a fundamental purpose in the UK’s sheep stratification system.
The traditional appearance of UK uplands is the product of the work of upland farmers and their livestock. Aside from breeding stock and genetics, hill and upland sheep breeds are excellent at managing the landscape and conserving natural habitats, promoting biodiversity. Sheep can be used to help control bracken and protect heather moorland and other natural habitats. Additionally, grazing sheep contribute to the improvement of peat soils often found in upland areas. Their hooves break up the cap of peat soils and trample in dead vegetation, and their waste fertilises the soil with rich gut bacteria.
Their tour of the British Wool HQ provided a detailed insight and information on the work carried out by the business to market wool produced in the UK to global audiences. In particular, they heard of the major challenges facing the business, the significant improvements already made and planned and how, as a result, the business was slowly but surely turning to move in the right direction. The DEFRA group learnt how wool is graded and sorted, as well learning how it is auctioned in a global marketplace. The tour concluded with a question and answer session which explored the key issues raised by the day.
Joe Farren, CEO of British Wool said: “British Wool was delighted to welcome the team of DEFRA representatives to what was a very informative and interesting day.
“I was very pleased to talk to DEFRA about some of the changes we have made for the better here and how we are steering a course to make British Wool fit for purpose. I am confident that, whatever the consequences of Brexit, British Wool will be able to continue to create a valuable market for UK produced wool.”
Farmers are the foundation of all land management in the country and native breeds possess qualities that are essential to the future of sheep production in the UK. The loss of native upland breeds would not only be detrimental to the utilisation and management of the hill landscape, lead to a loss to the culture and heritage of these areas, and change the face of the British countryside for generations.
Notes to editors:
British Wool Chairman Ian Buchanan on farm with DEFRA delegation
Sheep at Hall Farm, Blubberhouses, Otley
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