The Last Gather
The Last Gather

Roundthwaite Fell

The sheep in the picture are the local breed of Rough Fells belonging to the Wilson family of Borrowbridge near Tebay . They are being brought off Roundthwaite Fell. This fell has been their ancestral home for over two hundred years. It was also home to other families of sheep and each flock had its place on the fell called a heaf. The lambs go onto the fell in the spring with their mothers and learn from them, which is their own territory

      This system of grazing is very old. The community has been putting its animals out on the hills, since Celtic times, or earlier, and they own the grazing communally. This is something that does not fit into a modern administrator’s way of thinking very well.

      Forty years ago the whole community joined together to maintain the system, but, as farmers have become too old to manage the sheep on the fell and young men have not found the traditional way of life respected or rewarded, the flocks have been lost. Twenty years ago there were eleven flocks but three significant ones, with a few smaller ones remain. One of the largest, has been reduced in numbers by nearly a half, on the advice of Natural England without reference to any other commoner on the fell! Borrowbridge flock then took over the empty space and spread out for miles, making it a difficult job to gather them in. When a neighbouring farm became a holiday centre, the same process happened on Tebay fell, where the family also run a flock. It became impossible to manage two fells and one flock had to be sacrificed. The photograph records the last gather, as the sheep that have kept the family and community for hundreds of years, leave their home, probably for the last time.