Herdwick flock gathered
Herdwick Flock Gathered
Photo: David Stephenson

Herdwick Sheep

Herdwick sheep are the native breed of the central and western Lake District and live on the highest of England’s mountains. They are extremely hardy and are managed in the traditional way on the Lake District fells that have been their home for generations.

The word “Herdwyck”, meaning sheep pasture, is recorded in documents going back to the 12th century. Herdwick sheep are the most hardy of all Britain’s breeds of hill sheep, grazing the central and western dales of the Lake District with fells running to over three thousand feet.

Herdwick farms have typically less than 100 acres of lower, more productive land and rely on the common grazings of the high Lake District fells. The lambs graze with their mothers on the “heaf” belonging to that farm instilling a life long knowledge of where on the fell they should be grazing. This is crucial as the central Lake District fells are inaccessible and a sheep which strays from Borrowdale to Eskdale will involve a 100 mile round trip by road for the farmer to collect it.

The Herdwick’s hardiness and ability to graze over a wide area of fell is key to the maintenance of the Lake District landscape as we know it. By purchasing Herdwick products you are giving the farmers that manage this candidate World Heritage Site a sustainable future.

English Nature Sheep and Wildlife Enhancement Scheme

Following up the discussion at the Threlkeld meeting of the Hill Sheep Initiative, members of the Executive Committee met with the Cumbria Director of English Nature and one of his senior staff around the middle of August (2008). People will be aware that the Central Fells (where there are many heafed Herdwick flocks) are being designated as a Special Area of Conservation and as such are becoming subject to attempts to further reduce grazing intensity. In what was a lively meeting, there was a wide-ranging debate especially about the problems that might be caused to the balance of the heafing system if sheep flocks were further weakened in some areas. We put the view that we remained concerned about the numbers of our breed and hoped that some aspects of these schemes might be rethought in order to actually stress the importance of traditional fell sheep flock management as an important thing in its own right – something which indeed forms an important part of the attempt by the Lake District National Park to become a World Heritage Site. In the documentation for this “cultural landscape” status there is a strong emphasis on the heritage of hundreds of years of continuous grazing by Herdwick sheep. 

The issue for us, of course, is how we are going to keep it that way.

Herdwick Tup

To learn more about Herdwick Sheep:-