Moorland regeneration aids flock improvement
NORTH Yorks Moors national park is co-ordinating an environmental scheme linking moorland regeneration, sheep improvement and grouse conservation.
The moorland regeneration programme began in 1995 with an expenditure of £2.6m for the four- to five-year project receiving funding from European 5b and MAFF.
Its aim is to improve productivity of sheep and grouse, both of which suffer from the debilitating effects of sheep ticks and louping ill.
Programme co-ordinator, David Graham, told delegates at Ian Sleightholmes Low Farm, Scarbor-ough, North Yorks, that the programme linked farming, wildlife, conservation and the local economy.
"The project aims to improve sheep health, lamb quality and number of grouse on moors. So far 32 management agreements have been set up these include 26 estates and 124 farms covering 48,000ha of moor."
As part of the scheme sheep producers have to practise tick control three times a year. A fourth voluntary treatment in the spring is also grant funded, but the compulsory autumn dip is not.
"Sheep producers are paid on work done, with rates varying for the time of year sheep are treated.
"In spring they are paid 80p a ewe and 40p a lamb for tick control. In summer it is 60p a ewe and 30p a lamb and additional grant aid covers 70% of the cost of louping ill vaccination.
"This is reducing the tick population and also incidence of louping ill in sheep flocks and game birds," said Mr Graham.
"Game Conservancy monitors tick populations on six sites: On four they have fallen significantly, but on one site where a large flock is not involved in the programme tick numbers have gone up."
Other initiatives to boost farm incomes include marketing and promotion for selling whole or half Heather Lamb for freezing.
A North York Moors Quality Sheep Association has also been set up to promote the sale of breeding sheep from the region. Health schemes are another idea to help boost producer returns.
Mr Graham said sheep were an integral part of the moorland economy.
"They are essential to the grouse business, as gamekeepers would never keep up with the amount of heather burning required if sheep no longer grazed the moors. These moors are not over-grazed and would soon revert back to trees if there was no sheep on them."