After a somewhat damp half term, we are back to work on Friend of the Lake District land, this week down at High Borrowdale. High Borrowdale is a magnet for invading sheep who continually want to break into our deer proof enclosures and scoff our trees. We have wired the water gates together to stop the sheep walking up the beck bottom and forcing the gates apart, repaired all the walls and fences, put springs on the gates to close….and still the sheep break in.

In a bid to understand the mind of a sheep I have been doing some reading. John Lewis-Stempel is a traditional farmer down Herefordshire way. An award winning nature writer, he's full of common sense which attracts me, and has written a book about sheep. Who would have thought it could be so fascinating!  Apparently, in terms of their senses - smell, taste and sight are much stronger than their hearing.  They have a field of vision of 270 – 320 degrees so they really can see behind them! Sheep are not woodland animals, but animals of open spaces so I have no answer as to why they keep trying to live in our potential woodland areas…

Above: sheep where they should be, grazing on pasture.

Interestingly, until the early 20th century, a ‘hospital field’ was common where ill stock would be sent for self cure as they have the ability to self medicate by choosing the plants they need to eat when ill. With the new mono culture of grass rather than hay meadows, this ability may be dying out, but our restored hay meadows could be a magnet for ill sheep. You never know! 

Sheep can apparently learn their names and recognise faces – a trial showed out of 50 celebrities, 65% recognised Fiona Bruce! How could they do that I ask?  They prefer a smile to a frown and are good at solving puzzles, such as how to get into a field that they are not meant to be in.  They operate as flocks with team leaders.

So what does this tell me about managing High Borrowdale?  Well, if we want to attract the attention of the sheep whilst trying to evict them, we need a bucket of sheep nuts which they will smell and come for, rather than yelling at them.  We need to find the team leader and watch their ears (happy = floppy, droopy ears; unhappy = erect ears), act calmly, smile and wear Fiona Bruce masks.

What I want to know is, do sheep ever get a guilty conscience...

Pignut and hawthorn.

Work was full on at High Borrowdale, with half a dozen people repairing wall gaps to stop the sheep raiding the land. The rest of us were on tube recycling, collecting up and stacking more tubes ready for the big recycle drop in August. For those of you who are meadow lovers and may want to visit the flowers, the meadows are coming on well. Vegetation levels are high with all the rain and the buttercup, hawkbits, red clover, hay rattle and pignut are glorious at the moment. We also spied the odd ox eye daisy and a patch of wood cranesbill. Things will continue to flower and the big show will probably go on for another month or so, getting better all the time. It has been a great year for the hawthorn too, the white blossom was showing all along the fellside, which was lovely to see.

Tree tube recycling.

It was a treat to have Heather with us for the morning. Heather and husband Paul volunteered for us for many years at High Borrowdale and Mazonwath, and did some of the really challenging tasks such as laying the matting for the erosion control research on the steep banks. Heather wanted to see how things had changed in the last few years and wrote us a little note about the changes:

“It is quite difficult to spot where this work was done [on the erosion matting site]. Clearly a good thing. It seems to have worked. The wildflower meadows by the barn and farmhouse are just coming into full glory. An absolute delight and looking so established now. Last time I saw the meadows they were very young, but now looking amazing.

I was particularly interested in looking at the tree planting as that had been the main task we had worked on. There have been considerable difficulties with the terrain exposure and grazing. The hawthorn are clearly thriving and hopefully will grow up to provide cover and shelter for some of the other species. Slowly but surely I think.

I had a wonderful morning and it was lovely to see the gradual development and establishment of the area despite the hurdles and setbacks. A wonderful valley despite all the challenges of rain, wind, sheep, deer, wet land, deluge and landslips!”

Our next workparty is on Tuesday 11 at Sweden Wood. Join us if you can at