“The heafed fell stock of herdwick sheep theoretically have the right to graze all Buttermere and Brackenthwaite Common, but in practice are mainly heafed to Whiteside, Hopegill and Swinside.

They are hardy fell sheep, genetically adapted to the conditions on this fell, particularly ticks, and able to thrive year-round on the common without any supplementary feed.

This hardiness is not just inherited, but enhanced by the traditional system of management. The gimmer (female) lambs spend the winter on the farm’s natural, in-bye pasture in the valley and return to the common in April, when the ewes are in for lambing.

They remain there, apart from the routine gathers for clipping and necessary treatments, when they spend a few days in the fields. They are not put the tip (ram), but return to the common for their first winter, which is crucial for increasing their natural hardiness and learning from the older sheep where to go to survive whatever the weather.

Over winter the legendary hardiness of the in-lamb ewes enables them to survive on the common without any supplementary feed. Research has shown that they lose muscle and even bone density to nourish the growing lamb: yet, when brought into the fields in the Spring, they recover quickly enough to produce and rear a healthy a lamb.

Feed blocks are only provided for the ewes when they are in the fields for lambing if the weather is very bad. The sheep lamb outside with the minimum of interference and vehicles only used if absolutely necessary.

The emphasis is on creating and maintaining a natural, species rich sward and healthy soil. Weed wiping, spot spraying and cutting using an ATV are the preferred means of weed and invasive species control and no fertiliser is used.

Reduced stocking rates on the fell to comply with environmental agreements have resulted in far more twins than was usual on this type of hill farm. Consequently there are more sheep in the fields until clipping time, which affects the number of fields available to be shut off from May –July to produce species rich meadows. Never the less a third of the in-bye is in HLS and all the fields are species rich.

Mid November is the start of the hill farming cycle when the common is gathered for tip-time. The year old sheep (twinters) go back to the common. The ewes stay in the fields with the tips for approximately five weeks, after which the young ones go back to winter on the common. A proportion of the older ewes winter off the common on the farm’s enclosed fell and in-bye to comply with the environmental agreement on the common.

All the sheep are gathered in early April for a booster clostridial vaccination to protect them against eight diseases and other routine treatments against parasites, such as ticks and blowfly.

All those not in lamb go back to the common and the ewes stay in the fields to lamb. On this farm it’s usually late May before the ewes with single lambs can go back to the common. In July the sheep are gathered for clipping after which they all, including those with twins, go back to the common. 

During August and early September a neighbour’s cattle are brought in to eat any surplus grass and help reduce the parasite burden.

About the third week in September the common is gathered and the older ewes sorted off to be sold at the draft ewe sales. The rest go back to the common until mid-October when all the sheep are gathered to dip, and any necessary treatments are administered e.g. for fluke. The current year’s lambs are weaned and the wether (castrated males) are sold store, to be fattened on a better farm. The gimmers (female) remain in the fields for winter. The remaining sheep go back to the common until November and the cycle is complete.

This is the traditional system which is has played a fundamental role in creating and maintaining the World Heritage Site pastoral landscape we treasure today. It also sustainably produces high quality meat from native breed animals, which in optimum numbers and managed by skilled shepherds, are the ideal land management tool for the future.