Lake District sheep farming adapting to change - a new report

Mervyn Edwards has written a thoughtful and interesting reflection on his many happy years of working as a ‘Ministry’ (of Agriculture) adviser with sheep farmers in the Lake District. His report gives the reader a brief history of sheep farming, commons and the way of life of the fell farmer. It documents the policy changes (not always positive) he has encountered over his working years and disasters like Foot and Mouth Disease.

Mervyn is concerned for the future of traditional fell sheep farming as there are declining numbers of sheep farmers, partly as a consequence of a succession of national agri-environment schemes that are unable to take account of the particularities of fell sheep farming using common land.

On the positive side fell sheep farming in the Lake District is still a major farming enterprise and the ‘heart’ of the hefting system survives, i.e. the ewes are transferring the territorial grazing instinct to their lambs during the summer months.  But it needs nurturing and a more rounded approach is required by government agencies in the application of agri-environment schemes.

Mervyn concludes that the recent designation of the Lake District World Heritage Site provides a great opportunity to focus all those bodies and leading individuals with an interest in Lake District fell sheep farming to develop a local strategy to meet the requirements of the designation.

Let's hope the Agencies and NGOs listen to Mervyn's wise reflections gathered through experience.

You can read his report here.