Cumbria News & Star: March 14 2002

WHAT NEXT FOR THE HEFTED HERDWICK?

THE impact of foot and mouth on Cumbria's native hill sheep was explained yesterday to the man leading the "lessons, to be learned" inquiry. Dr Iain Anderson heard how thousands of irreplaceable "hefted" sheep had been culled during the outbreak as he finished his two-day, fact-finding visit to Cumbria. Representatives from sheep societies were at yesterday's meeting, hosted by Cumbria National Farmers' Union deputy chairman Steve Dunning, to voice their concerns over hefted and rare Cumbrian sheep.

Grazing

During crisis, an estimated 30 per cent of Herdwick sheep and 60 per cent of Swaledales in the county were slaughtered. Hefted sheep instinctively stick to their own grazing land as the information is passed down from generation to generation.

Mr Dunning said officials needed to understand local issues, such as the plight of hefted sheep, before implementing a national policy. He said it could take two or three years of labour- intensive shepherding before replacement sheep could be hefted onto the fells.

Dr Anderson said: "Hefted sheep is a very specialist area of agriculture. Along with many other branches of agriculture, they raise questions of a special case.

"The challenge is how it will be possible to integrate all the various needs of the sectors into one overall national plan for future control of this disease."

The inquiry team began their visit to the worst-hit county on Tuesday morning at Longtown Auction Mart before hosting meetings in Carlisle and Keswick with groups affected by last year's epidemic.

On Tuesday night, they listened as more than 100 people at a public meeting in Carlisle.

Dr Anderson said after yesterday's meeting at Raisgill Hall, Tebay, that he now understood more about the issues Cumbria faced.

"I have learned a lot that I didn't know about what actually happened on the ground and what the issues were," he said.

"There is a lot of anger and frustration and it is important for me to understand the source of that.