In my last blog I was concerned that the sheep would be gathered into the species rich fields for clipping in mid-July before the flowers had set seed, because the heat and drought had delayed growth, but that didn’t happen.

The fields were a blaze of colour and the sward was so dense that the sheep trampled more than they ate scattering the seeds and leaving the under storey lightly trimmed. By late August the autumn hawkbit was abundant as shown in the photographs, with the ewes and twins about to be turned to the Common for the lambs to begin heafing (the instinct of keeping to a certain heft - a small local area - throughout their lives).

The photos also illustrate the reason why upland farms, particularly those dependent on common grazing, can only put a limited proportion of their in-bye fields (those situated near to the farm buildings) into a hay meadow environmental scheme.  The neighbouring brown fields have just been late cut for hay.  They should have been cut in July, but there hadn’t been a long enough spell of dry weather.  Those fields, as well as not being available to use from May to late August, did not recover enough to provide grazing for the fell sheep when they had to be gathered again in mid-September to sort off the older (draft) ewes for sale.

In September and October the farmer should reap their reward for all the hard work over the year and are particularly busy months.  The draft ewes and wether (male) lambs have to be got ready for sale and rams bought and sold, so a lot of time is spent in the auctions.

The sheep were only back on the Common for four weeks before they had to be gathered again, this time to dip them and wean all the lambs.  The ewes were freshly marked (smit) so that I know, when they were next gathered, that any without that mark hadn’t been dipped and needed an alternative treatment.  The male (wether) lambs were sold and the gimmer (female) lambs will be kept on better land until the spring.  

Prices this year have been buoyant and record numbers of breeding sheep have been sold.  This is not as positive as it sounds, because it is due to the excessively severe reductions of heafed fell sheep demanded by Natural England in order to enter into a new environmental scheme.  The upland farms are dependent on environmental payments and the Basic Payment Scheme, which has already been halved, for the majority of their income, so they haven’t a choice.  The heafed flocks of the Lake District are being reduced to unsustainable numbers.

As I write this the sheep have been gathered and are in the fields with the tups (rams) as the farming cycle begins again.  The weather has already swung from extremely wet and windy to hard frost and snow on the hills.  The weather has always been extreme at times, but now it happens more often.  I am apprehensive that, after a series of mild winters, this one may be very cold.


This is a personal diary from our member Pauline Blair, and her views do not necessarily reflect those of Friends of the Lake District.