Aiming to pass on skills of Lakeland fell farmers and preserve Herdwick breed
Last updated at 12:52, Friday, 15 February 2013
Herdwick sheep have roamed freely over the Lakeland landscape for more than 1,000 years.
And in a bid to keep the iconic breed alive, Joe and Hazel Relph, of Yew Tree Farm, Rosthwaite, are passing on their traditional skills to the next generation.
The couple, whose Borrowdale farm is a favourite of Prince Charles, are at the forefront in the fightback for a sheep flock that came close to extinction during the 2001 foot and mouth epidemic. They were threatened with being culled to stop the disease’s spread.
Mrs Relph said: “The average age of a hill farmer is 70. We need new blood. But they have to be passionate about the Herdwicks and the traditional way of farming.”
The family have tenant farmed their 2,000-acre land at Rosthwaite for more than 30 years.
It took the couple, who have welcomed Prince Charles to their B&B a number of times, eight years to claw back what they had lost in 2001.
“For us the threat of extinction was real. We lost valuable breeding lines. We had to breed children off grandmothers. We had no choice,” added Mrs Relph.
“But we have moved forward and are now keen to keep the breed and this traditional way of farming going. If the circle breaks, then it will go to pieces.”
The couple, who have a 2,000-strong flock of Herdwicks, are working closely with Newton Rigg College, near Penrith, in a scheme supported by The Prince’s Countryside Fund.
The scheme supports those wanting to take over family farms or start their own hill farming business.
She said: “This is not a closed shop. Anyone who is passionate about hill farming and the Herdwick breed can come on board.
“We don’t use helicopters or tractors here. What you have is one man and his dog literally.”
Yew Tree Farm has won many accolades over the years for being the best example of local food.
This week they are declaring the start of Herdy Season.
The Relphs said they were keen to see people associate the breed with the county, in the same way clotted cream is linked with Devon and Cornwall.
Some 99 per cent of regional UK Herdwicks roam freely over the Cumbrian fells.
They mature slowly, producing a prized, quality meat with a more succulent, gamier flavour than regular lamb.
The couple give visitors to their farm the chance to sample a unique and ancient breed that is prized for its superb taste and quality – something they hope more people will pick up on as the breed is brought back to strength.
Mrs Relph added: “Our Herdwicks are born here, cared for here, and are eaten here.”
The couple also supply three well-known Lake District hotels.
First published at 12:37, Friday, 15 February 2013
Published by http://www.timesandstar.co.uk
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