Ingleborough is one of our most iconic hills in the Yorkshire Dales, but of the thousands of people who visit to walk the well trodden route, very few will be aware of a much longer history on the fell… that of commoning.
For generations farmers have been working together on the country’s commons. The sheep that go up onto the common are from hefted flocks, something that takes generations to produce. As John Dawson explains in this video, it means when sheep go onto the common they know which is their “heft” – meaning their area of the common, the bit that they will live on and graze, and they then teach their lambs. This learned pattern continues for generations and means that the sheep that go onto the common from each farm each have their own patch and graze this area without the need for fences.
Louise Robinson, John Dawson and William Dawson kindly filmed this gather for us during the Covid-19 pandemic using their mobile phones.
The common is gathered at several key points throughout the year, and this gather was about bringing the sheep down to be sheared. You can learn more about shearing from this video.
Gathering the fell is a highly organised event! The farmers arrange a date between them, but in typical Yorkshire Dales fashion, the best laid plans often go awry! In this case the gather was supposed to be held on the Monday, but the Yorkshire summer had other plans. The wind and rain came in and held off the gather until later in the week (you will be able to tell it is still a tad windy on the video!). Once the weather cleared the farmers were able to get together, meeting at the top of Ingleborough at 6am! This means the sheep are moved at a cooler time of day for their welfare, and there are not so many people about on the fell. It also maximises the day for the farmers. Once the sheep are gathered and sorted at the bottom the farmers take their own home and then get them sheared and checked over, ready to go back out onto the fell.
This traditional method of managing the fells has been passed down through generations, much like the lambs learn from the sheep, the young farmers learn from their parents (sometimes reluctantly for a 5am start!) and it is passed through the generations. Through this ancient practice, our farmers have been looking after our stunning landscape and the amazing wildlife that it supports.
We are working in partnership on a new project called “Our Common Cause” which is still in its early stages, but aims to explain in more detail about commons. We will share more information about this exciting project as it develops.