20 March 1998

The moor the

merrier for sheep…

In the last of our regional specials, highlighting key issues

facing farmers throughout the UK, Alan Barker reports on

farming in the north-east. Higher costs and lower farm

prices are leading livestock and arable producers to adopt

imaginative solutions to maintain incomes

NORTH York Moors farmers are joining forces to market their sheep more effectively. They have formed their own Quality Sheep Association to promote the quality of their half-bred and pure bred breeding sheep and store lambs.

The group includes producers running Swaledale and Scottish Blackface ewes on nearly 50,000ha (123,000 acres) of moors. First year membership numbers 40 farmers who sell 4000 sheep. The aim is to double that total this year, and to set recognised quality standards for sheep marketed by members. Sheep will be tagged individually to ensure full traceability to the farm of origin.

The group has won the support of the Moorland Association and local auctioneers who have donated a rose bowl trophy to be competed for each year.

There are encouraging signs after the first year that promotional activities are attracting new buyers to sales of Mule and Masham ewe lambs.

Important steps have already been taken to improve the health and quality of sheep flocks grazing the heather moorland. It follows a four-year moorland regeneration programme, operated by the North York Moors National Park Authority in partnership with landowners, farmers, and conservation bodies.

The £2.6m Moorland Regeneration Programme is funded under an European Objective 5b programme and by MAFF. High on the schemes sheep health agenda are plans to control sheep ticks and the associated louping ill disease which has taken a heavy toll of grouse chicks and lambs.

The regeneration programme has two phases: First, to improve the quality of the moorland through the provision of financial aid. Second, to provide incentives for the continued moorland maintenance after the programme ends.

Programme co-ordinator, Michael Graham explains the thinking behind the scheme. "The emphasis throughout is on strengthening local partnerships, encouraging good environmental practice and helping sustainable management which will maintain and enhance the richness and diversity of the moorland."

Control of sheep tick receives top priority and is being tackled by bracken control and eradication. That has involved the treatment of 2534ha (6262 acres) of bracken, which harbour the ticks and the introduction of three-times a year compulsory dipping.

Dipping could be extended to four times a year on a voluntary basis. About 83,000 sheep are treated with grant aid covering 70% of the cost. A vaccination programme against louping ill is also being grant aided.

Management agreements involving 26 estates and 124 farms have been signed, covering 96% of the parks heather moorland.

Nearly 4280ha (10,575 acres) of heather has been burnt or cut. Grant aid has been made available for the construction of 31 sets of sheep and dipping facilities.

A sheep health scheme has been introduced, involving three veterinary visits each year to participating farms.

Mr Graham stresses the importance of developing partnerships in helping the scheme to work effectively. "This is all about local partnerships between the national park, farmers, landowners and everyone with an interest, working together to improve the moors," says Mr Graham.

Already the scheme is producing clear benefits, he adds. The grouse bag has increased from 9800m brace two years ago to 11,650 brace this year.

Lamb losses between marking and weaning have fallen steadily from a level of 17%. Chairman of the North York Moors Quality Sheep Association, George Allison, points the way forward. A feasibility study has been carried out into marketing prime lamb from the moors within the local area as a quality, branded product, says Mr Allison, Low Cow Helm.

Bransdale sheep producer Ray Flintoft values the emphasis placed on dipping. "Ive always dipped my flock of 900 moor sheep three times a year against tick. The programme will ensure all sheep producers do the same, he says.

Mr Flintoft recognises the high cost of dipping and appreciates the 70% contribution to costs. "We want to keep the dipping programme going beyond the end of the current programme in order to maintain and build on the good work of the past few years," he says.

Mike Graham (left), co-ordinator of the North York Moorland Regeneration Programme, with farmer Ray Flintoft of Bransdale and Swaledale ewes.

Charlie Booth(left) holds wheat drilled at 4st/acre compared with plants drilled 12st/acre on Sept 27 in brother Alaric Booths hands..

QUALITY SHEEP ASSN

&#8226 340 farmer members

&#8226 Selling 4000 Swaledale and Scottish Blackface sheep

&#8226 Investigating potential to market prime lambs as a local quality branded product.

George Allison of Chopgate, Middlesborough – chairman of the North York Moor Quality Sheep Association.