Wednesday, 17 June 2015

While shepherds watched their flocks

Too many sheep, with consequent overgrazing, has damaged the rich mix of plantlife at Hafod y Llan, the farm that rises from the Nant Gwynant valley floor to the summit of Snowdon. Believe it or not, sheep are picky eaters, with a bit of a sweet tooth for particular plants, leaving others to thrive and dominate the mountain sward.

Bilberry and heather regenerating on the foothills of Snowdon
Since the National Trust acquired the farm 15 years ago the number of sheep has been halved but the plantlife has not recovered everywhere or as well as hoped. The problem is that sheep, like nature, abhor a vacuum and sheep from neighbouring farms have been trespassing. Worse still, they like to graze on the more sensitive areas on the higher slopes of the mountains.

To sort this out a shepherd was employed in 2014 to push the sheep into the correct areas and to evict the trespassers. But when he knocked off, the sheep ‘came out to play’. So this year a second shepherd has been appointed and between the two of them they can provide 7 day cover during daylight hours in the summer. Hopefully the mountain tops will soon be a purple haze of blooming heather and fruiting bilberry with sheep growing fat on the pasture below.

If you’d like to know more about this project, embracing traditional shepherding to tackle a current issue, this film might be of interest (Welsh version first and English version below):

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