sent to the Prime Minister. 12 Apr '01
or Hefted Flocks
landscape of the British uplands that we like to regard as our
heritage, that tourists love to visit, written about by Wordsworth
and Sir Walter Scott, was shaped by men and their sheep. The Heafed
or Hefted flocks of the Welsh Mountains, the Lake District, and the
Pennines from High Peak to the Borders, the Cheviots, Galloway Hills
and the Scottish Highlands.
Heaf or Heft is the territory occupied by a flock on open hill. The
individual sheep live and move within these boundaries according to
season and weather. Each lamb inherits its mother's patch and out on
the hill it is possible to pick out family groups made up of
heafing of flocks involves a lot more than teaching them the
boundaries, which are rarely more than a stream, a ridge, or a rough
track. That alone, from personal experience, takes from three to five
years. From my yard gate one can walk over hills and mires for five
miles as the crow flies before coming to the next fence. To drive
from the same yard right round the fell and back is a thirty five
mile trip. That gives some idea of the scale of some of the commons
on which there are many heafs.
the first years the losses are high. Sheep are drowned in the streams
during spates because they haven't found the easy fords. Sheep drown
in the bogs because they haven't learned the right paths through
them. Sheep are buried in the snows because they don't know the safe
next ten to fifteen years is spent weeding out those families which
don't thrive on their 'new' heaf. It takes generations to build up a
tolerance to the local diseases and mineral imbalances.
sheep to be found on all the British fells and mountains are the
lineal descendants of sheep that have been on those same hills for
the best part of a thousand years. Alterations in breed type have
been brought about slowly by introducing different rams, NOT by
changing the female line.
aside the Lake District's Herdwick Sheep which are unique and already
depleted by a quarter in the course of the current epidemic, the
other breeds are nearly as difficult to replace. The main problem is
the weather. Here in the Lakes we have an average rainfall of 1500
mm. [5 ft.]. The Western slopes of the Pennines are wet and have the
same breeds of sheep, but already so many have been destroyed because
of F&M disease that there will be no surplus for many years.
East slopes and the Yorkshire Dales have splendid sheep but they are
bred to withstand snow NOT incessant rain and wind. North Yorkshire
Moors produce good sheep but they've been bred to withstand the
bitter cold and snows from the North Sea. Sheep taken from a dry hill
to a wet one don't thrive. Sheep moved from a low fell to a mountain
won't utilise the higher ground. The reason we have such a diversity
of breeds in the British Isles is that each developed as the best
suited to its particular environment.
heafed flocks are, I believe, unique to the British Isles. Should
they be lost or seriously depleted, through disease or neglect, we
will also lose not only the people with their special skills who tend
them, but also our upland landscape. The hills will revert to scrub,
gorse, thorns and stunted, wind blasted trees. These flocks are part
of a priceless heritage, are irreplaceable and must be protected, not
at some time in the future, but NOW. Those who live and work in the
uplands, through all seasons and who understand them, must be allowed
a dominant voice.