BRITISH Wool recently took a group of senior Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs staff to look at the important contribution sheep farmers make to upland management in the UK.

The day started with the group visiting Hall Farm, Blubberhouses near Otley, a progressive hill farm, run by British Wool’s regional committee member for West Yorkshire, Nick Houseman. This was followed by a personal tour of British Wool’s headquarters and depot in Bradford to gain a first-hand perspective of its role within the sheep industry as a whole.

The twelve-person delegation included senior policy advisor on livestock and farming productivity, Roland Evans; trade team leader on agriculture policy and trade specialist, Robin Manning: and data analyst on sustainable land management and livestock farming analysis and evidence, Janet Carr.

The group saw how Mr Houseman manages his flock of Swaledale, Bluefaced Leicesters and North of England Mules on his 475 acre farm, which runs to 800ft. The Swaledale ewes run with a Bluefaced Leicester ram to produce the North of England Mule lambs which are then crossed with Texel x Beltex rams to produce prime lambs for meat production.

British Wool chairman, Ian Buchanan, commented: “The aim of this visit was to highlight the fact that upland sheep farming is an essential part of the whole sheep industry. These producers not only supply the market with a niche meat product, they also provide breeding stock and genetics to the UK gene pool.

"It is unquestionable that upland farmers like Nick play a vital role in looking after the upland landscape, whether for keystone species, habitats or for recreation, as well as protecting public goods such as water and carbon. Thanks must go to Nick for allowing DEFRA to visit his farm and see for themselves how upland farming and the environment work in synergy.”

British Wool stressed that the traditional appearance of UK uplands is the product of the work of upland farmers and their livestock. Aside from breeding stock and genetics, it insisted that hill and upland sheep breeds were excellent at managing the landscape and conserving natural habitats, promoting biodiversity. Sheep could be used to help control bracken and protect heather moorland and other natural habitats.

Additionally, grazing sheep contribute to the improvement of peat soils often found in upland areas, as their hooves break up the cap of peat soils and trample in dead vegetation, and their waste fertilises the soil with rich gut bacteria.

Their tour of the British Wool HQ provided an insight into the work carried out by the business to market wool produced in the UK to global audiences. British Wool CEO Joe Farren said: “British Wool was delighted to welcome the team of DEFRA representatives to what was a very informative and interesting day.

“I was very pleased to talk to DEFRA about some of the changes we have made for the better here and how we are steering a course to make British Wool fit for purpose. I am confident that, whatever the consequences of Brexit, British Wool will be able to continue to create a valuable market for UK produced wool.”