A Cumbria hill farmer is seeking a derogation from the British Wool Marketing Board so he can buy fleeces from his neighbours to use in a new venture producing potting compost.

Simon Bland, who already has a successful business producing a horticultural soil conditioner based on bracken harvested from his fell land, has developed a new compost product which includes sheep’s wool, cow manure and bracken.

He runs Cheviot ewes at Dalefoot Farm, Bampton with his partner Dr Jane Barker, and says he will pay neighbouring farmers up to 40p/kg for their wool – that’s almost four times the current price being paid by the BWMB.

Mr Bland’s existing bracken-based product is made on the farm and is supplied by mail order.

The Lakeland Gold soil conditioner is now recommended by The Henry Doubleday Research Association.

But the new product – based on old gardening lore – is a potting compost that requires the addition of sheep’s wool.

Mr Bland said: “Wool used to be used by gardeners in planting pits to provide young plants with a slow release of nitrogen and improve the water retention of the soil.

It was known as shoddy and was waste wool from the weaving mills.”

The new potting compost has been undergoing trails in Cumbria and has won the approval of several leading gardening experts in the county.

This week Mr Bland was meeting two other Cumbria-based businesses that source wool direct from sheep farmers for use in an insulation product and for carpet manufacture.

He will then make his application to the BWMB for the derogation.

“I’d like to see my neighbours set up a wool producer group to enable me to purchase fleeces from them to use in the compost mix.

We don’t use OP dips and our neighbours are now using injectables too, so the compost wouldn’t be tainted with any chemical residues.

“I’ve been told that I will be allowed to use the 1600kg of wool produced from our own flock but that won’t be sufficient.

The NFU has given us its full support, but we now have to wait for the BWMB’s decision concerning the derogation to buy wool from other farmers,” says Mr Bland.

A spokesman for the BWMB said the board was always ready to consider projects that could make use of wool.