Upland farmers looking to raise awareness of the ancient yet threatened practice of commoning had one of their sheep ‘gathers’ documented last week.
A dozen ‘graziers’ – farmers with rights to graze sheep on the common – and their dogs drove sheep from a vast area of common land on the west side of Ingleborough mountain into brand new sorting pens at Cod Bank.
It was the fifth and final gather of the year from Ingleborough Common, intended to bring all the breeding ewes still on the fell to lower ground for tupping.
Our Upland Commons funded the construction of the £11,000 new sorting pens. As well as celebrating the traditions of commoning, the project is helping to secure their future through work to enhance biodiversity, improve flood mitigation and restore peat. It’s working in Dartmoor, Shropshire and the Lake District as well as the Yorkshire Dales National Park.
Commoners of Brant Fell in the Howgills near Sedbergh in the South Lakeland District and of Grassington Moor in the Craven District are the other project participants in the Dales.
Chair of the Ingleborough Graziers, John Dawson from Bleak Bank Farm, said: “I’m a big fan of the project. It’s raised the profile of what we do – it’s as simple as that. We were so long under the radar.
“Some aspects of commoning and the agricultural life are under valued by society. The question is whether people want food to be produced by the family farm. These are farms who you know will always do their best and that you can trust.
“Some lambs gathered off Ingleborough this year have already been sold into the food chain. And all those lambs sucked their mother’s milk and ate grass. It doesn’t get any closer to nature than that or any more pure than that.”
John’s son William Dawson, who was also on the gather, said the funding for the new sorting pens had boosted morale:
“Often all farmers think about is that we’re constantly being weakened. Only about 12 gatherers use the common now. Twenty years ago that would have been about 30. As small farms have sold up because they are no longer viable, the number of gatherers has come down. So it’s nice to see investment being made in commoning.
“The pens will make the job easier and safer because the old pens had been built in the 60s and they were held together by bits of baler twine, old pallets and zinc sheets.”
The Member Champion for Cultural Heritage at the Yorkshire Dales National Park Authority, Derek Twine, said: “Commoning survives in only a handful of places in the Yorkshire Dales National Park yet it is an outstanding feature of our cultural heritage.
“The viability of commoning is being further threatened during this period of agricultural transition that we are seeing in England. Supporting commons through this period of change is vital. One of the ways we can do that is to help people understand the benefits that come from traditional management of commons: good food, wildlife habitats, carbon sequestration and water storage.”
Our Upland Commons Project is led by the Cumbria-based Foundation For Common Land, with funding from National Lottery players and grants from Esmée Fairbairn and Garfield Weston Foundations.