Sheep gathering – Buckfastleigh Common

By law each year all sheep have to be removed from the Commons of Dartmoor to help control ticks – this happens during November. The ewes are also put to the ram – known as tupping. This year on Buckfastleigh Common, Russell Ashford invited the public to come and watch him gather in his sheep. Here are my pictures from the day.

One man and his dog

BBC Spotlight were there to film the gathering

This quote from James Rebanks – the Lake District hill-farmer and author of the Shepherd’s Life is very appropriate to Dartmoor as well

“Our farming way of life has roots deeper than five thousand years into the soil of this landscape. Taking my sheep down those lanes is what people have done here since the land was first settled. That is what these lanes are for, to let the little farmsteads access the mountain grazing. I am walking in the footsteps of my ancestors, and living a life they lived.”

Explaining to the public various intricacies of Scotch Blackfaced Sheep

We were also treated to a mini sheep dog trial run by Kenny Watson, a Dartmoor hill-farmer and highly respected shepherd from Postbridge

Hill-farming faces many challenges in the months and years to come – not least because as a result of Brexit the system for paying subsidies to farmers is going to change. Hill-farmers rely on the Basic Payment Scheme and agri-environmental payments as the moors are marginal land but without Commoners the Commons can’t be managed for their ‘public goods’ (wildlife, archaeology, water supply, carbon storage, access and recreation).

This event was a celebration of culture and tradition (tradition on a quad bike)

Thoroughly enjoyable – I suspect in the future we will see more of these types of event. I hope so.

6 thoughts on “Sheep gathering – Buckfastleigh Common

  1. Thanks for this, Adrian. It’s rare to hear of a hill farmer issuing such an invitation, but it seems like a good idea in order to garner the understanding and support they might need in the years ahead.

    I’d be interested to hear of how the farmer advertised it, and also your reading of who the ‘audience’ was made up of. Thanks.

  2. Paul – first time that this has happened on Dartmoor. Was run a joint event between the Common Owner / grazier Russell Ashworth, the DNPA and the Dartmoor Commoners Council. Was advertised by the DNPA and on social media and perhaps could have been done better. Lessons perhaps for next year. A lot of the attendees were the ‘usual suspects’ but there were interested members of the public there too. I suspect we will see more events like this on the moor next year – different locations etc. Buckfastleigh West is in the back of beyond! A

  3. The juxtaposition between the often lonely life of a hill shepherd and being filmed with a posse of people must have made for an interesting day. A good idea too to open up the activity to the public, ignorance leads to inaccuracy, having people on the moor with you, watching and learning has to be a good first step. Love the fourth last image too. Just because.

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