Charlie Beaty: Give the sheep a break

“Ruminants are killing the planet.” It’s a narrative we’ve all heard before, predominantly with the humble bovine getting the blame.

This time, though, it’s a different assassin apparently attacking our countryside – sheep.

Former Defra adviser Ben Goldsmith has claimed “there are far too many sheep in Britain” and that they represent the “principal obstacle” preventing meaningful nature recovery in national parks and other agriculturally marginal landscapes. The sheep, he suggested, have to go.

See also: Charlie Beaty – make the most of farmer time

About the author

Charlie Beaty
Harper Adams University graduate Charlie has a keen interest in the livestock sector, being heavily involved in the beef and sheep enterprises at home, as well as the arable and contracting side of things. The 25-year-old is an active member of Warwickshire YFC and loves travelling the world.
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Now, this may have been the case in the days of headage payments, when sheep farming was incentivised by a per animal subsidy, encouraging overstocking at the cost of our countryside.

But this has long since been replaced by a support payment based on area, rather than stocking densities.

The National Sheep Association (NSA) said it was “exasperated” by the comments, calling them “naïve and uneducated”.

Sheep have proved to be both economically and environmentally valuable in relation to water quality, carbon sequestration and biodiversity.

Our hills and uplands provide an ideal area for a grass-fed, sustainably reared protein source to be produced.

Particularly at a time where food security is rather, erm, uncomfortable.

I farm in the lowlands of Warwickshire, but in a traditional, mixed farming area. We run a flock of about 300 breeding ewes, which strongly complement our crop rotation.

Over the past few years, we have increased the integration between the two enterprises, using our sheep to culturally control disease, weeds and excess plant growth in our arable crops, which would otherwise be done chemically.

Grazing these crops over the winter months has proven both beneficial for the crops, while also acting as “rocket fuel” for our fat lambs and in-lamb ewes.

The NSA said sheep had “created and maintained some of the most loved landscapes” in the country.

I agree – they’re fantastic at managing landscapes, particularly in upland areas, preventing them from becoming overgrown and inaccessible.

I agree that grazing in such areas needs to be managed carefully to maintain and enhance the natural flora and fauna.

But to claim that sheep are destroying the British Isles? I’d say Mr Goldsmith is trying to pull the wool over our eyes…