THE NATIONAL SHEEP ASSOCIATION (NSA), working in partnership with others, is delighted to receive the additional funding to explore consumption opportunities for UK heritage sheep breeds connected to landscapes and specific products.
NSA Mutton Consultant Bob Kennard has put together the information below in conjunction with a survey designed to gather views on the proposals.
Consumption of sheep meat is in long-term decline, especially when compared to poultry consumption.
The structure of the UK sheep industry has changed over the past 40 years from a predominantly traditional stratified system, towards a much more non-stratified one, where a few ‘general-purpose’ breeds are scattered in several ecological and altitude zones to directly produce finished lambs
Hill breed populations have declined quite dramatically over the past 40 years, as have other traditional UK Heritage breeds.
Whilst the pure-bred numbers have been in general decline, several cross-breds have been on the rise. A few breeds have seen dramatic increases in numbers, including the Texel and Lleyn.
New breeds and composites are still appearing. This is a continuation of breeding innovation that has occurred for centuries. However, there is some concern in the industry about recent such developments, especially if the ownership of these genetics is held by breeding companies with contacts, skills, and finance, to establish marketing relationships with national supply chains and/or supermarkets. Experience of such developments in other livestock sectors is that it can have sudden and far reaching effects on reducing genetic variety.
These changes have been interpreted as increasing “efficiency”. However, there are dangers, two of which are particularly important.
- The threat to the genetic viability of our native sheep breeds
The UK has over 60 native breeds of sheep, the highest in the world. The decline in the commercial use of traditional Heritage breeds of sheep threatens the priceless genepool which they give us. Who knows what genetic traits will be needed in future, especially with the effects of climate change? This national asset of genetic variability could disappear as populations of many breeds shrink to genetically non-viable levels. No sheep breed can rest on its laurels and resist moving with the times, but all breeds carry valuable traits that need recognition. Their future will be more secure if they succeed in the marketplace.
- The threat to the landscape and communities of the uplands
The decline of stratification has reflected a decline in traditional sheep farming systems, which have developed and maintained many landscapes over hundreds of years. The intensification and ‘increased efficiency’ of farming enterprises such as pigs, poultry and dairy have changed these sectors beyond recognition. Sheep farming, particularly in the uplands, remains the final bastion of traditional farming systems in the UK, based largely on family farms. However, unlike other farming sectors which are less landscape-based, the decline of traditional sheep farming has more far-reaching impacts. Not only are the cherished landscapes and other pastoral areas under threat, but also the communities which still largely rely on traditional sheep farming for their survival.
It is with this backdrop that the NSA, together with a number of industry bodies are developing a strategy to help address these problems. With a recent donation from the Prince’s Countryside Fund to add to industry donations, we are now able to proceed with a feasibility study to find a practical solution. The work, to be carried out over the next few months, will investigate whether a sustainable project to add value to UK Heritage sheep breed supply chains can be developed.
Diversifying the Sheep Meat Market
Industry-scale promotional and marketing efforts currently concentrate, understandably, largely on just one product, Standard Lamb. Meanwhile, sheep production has a gloriously diverse heritage.
It has been said that breed has little impact on sheep meat flavour, but this is only likely to be true of lamb where flavours have not had time to develop, as with veal. Increasing evidence is now demonstrating that with mutton there are definite differences in flavour between breeds. This would have been no surprise to Victorian Foodies.
The current sheep meat market could be compared to the wine market of the 1950s and 1960s, when there was only a small handful of widely available wines. This has now exploded into thousands. The same pattern can be seen for cheese, beer, bread and so on. With increased interest in the story behind our food, the time seems right to offer the consumer more choice in sheep meat, without harming the core Standard Lamb. Indeed, a number of producers have been doing so for years, albeit without much industry support.
Why should we more actively support the diversity of sheep products?
- If the diversity of sheep meat was actively celebrated and promoted, it could lead to important benefits;
- Enhanced farm incomes, particularly in upland areas;
- Support & encouragement for local supply chains, and other local businesses, keeping more wealth within the local community;
- Help to ensure the financial and genetic viability of our traditional UK heritage breeds;
- Help to maintain traditional farming systems which have developed in harmony with the environment, and created our iconic British landscapes.
Minister kicks access issue into long grass
THE SUSTAINABLE MANAGEMENT of Natural Resources Consultation process has finally concluded, but there’s no sign of progress, according to Rebecca Williams, Director of CLA Cymru.
Saying that the time has come to make decisions, Ms Williams said: “How we manage our natural resources, must form part of our vision for a vibrant, sustainable, competitive rural economy delivering against a range of public goods.
Responding to the Welsh Government Environment Minister, Hannah Blythyn AM’s statement summarising the responses to the Sustainable Management of Natural Resources (SMNR) consultation, Rebecca Williams, Director CLA Cymru, said: “We have a unique opportunity to define the future of land management in Wales. Our government processes really must deliver better and faster results. We need to find answers to the vital questions in land management about how the Welsh Government’s Five Core Principles be delivered as a working plan.”
“Last year’s SMNR consultation addressed a very broad range of issues many of which were complex, others seemed disjointed from the main theme. This was an unwieldy and demanding exercise both for organisations and for individuals. The process was protracted, the outcome has been delayed. The substantial number of responses may be encouraging to the Government, but it does also bear witness to the level of concern about the potential vital impact the proposals may have on rural business and the countryside community. There is no doubt that greater subtlety and engagement is required in stakeholder-management.”
While there were over 19,000 responses to the consultation, over 16,000 of those were focussed on one issue – access to land. Of those 16,000 responses, only around 450 answered the questions posed by the consultation and there was a massive number of responses from individuals and campaign groups in favour of widening access to the countryside.
The Welsh Government has, however, shied away from specific legislation to provide greater rights for ramblers, canoeists, cyclists, and other groups in favour of achieving more access to Wales’ countryside.
In a written statement delivered to the Assembly on June 19, Environment Minister Hannah Blythyn said: “There were strong but differing views on how best to reform access legislation. We therefore believe that now is not the right time for substantive reform. But we are committed to exploring selected aspects of change where there was greater consensus, including on some of the administrative arrangements and multi-use paths. We will continue to facilitate further discussions through established groups such as the National Access Forum.”
Those remarks have been met with disappointment from Ramblers Cymru, the charitable organisation and campaign group that fights for walkers’ access to land.
Angela Charlton, Director of Ramblers Cymru told The Herald: “‘As Wales’ walking charity working to protect and expand the places people love to walk, Ramblers Cymru is disappointed that a year after this consultation was held, we are no clearer about Welsh Government’s ultimate vision for improving access to the Welsh outdoors.”
Ms Charlton drew attention to consultations not producing positive results in terms of policy or legislation, continuing: “We have had 2 major consultations on these issues in the last 3 years, and now face further consultation on as yet undefined changes.
“Through our campaign over 2,500 people took the time to support our call for increased and improved access and protection of our paths, and it is frustrating that we seem no closer to seeing the changes needed. We are however, pleased to continue engaging with Welsh Government to ensure Wales is a world class country for walking and will continue putting proposals forward to help achieve this.”
While the NFU noted the strength of the responses regarding access to land, NFU Cymru President, John Davies said: “The consultation contained a number of proposals that were extremely worrying to farmers including granting higher access rights which would have enabled cycling and horse riding on footpaths as well as extending and amending the list of restrictions on CRoW land. We, therefore, welcome the announcement from the Environment Minister that now is not the right time for substantive reform.”
John Davies continued: “We note, however, the Welsh Government is committed to exploring aspects of change where the consultation process showed greater consensus including some of the administrative arrangements and multi-use paths. We await information on what these specific areas will be and would highlight that, given 80% of the land area of Wales is agricultural land, farmers are key providers of the landscape and countryside upon which many access and recreational activities depend. Any reforms must consider the safety of access users and should not result in increased costs, burden and liabilities being placed on farmers in Wales.
“We are pleased that the consultation process revealed consensus in the area of keeping dogs on fixed length leads in the vicinity of livestock, which was a generally accepted proposal. The worrying of livestock by dogs is a key concern to our members and we would hope this is an area that can be progressed in the near future.”
FUW President Glyn Roberts said: ” The FUW welcome the news that the Welsh Government have decided now is not the right time for a substantive review to reform access legislation.
“Wales has approximately 16,200 miles of footpaths, 3,100 miles of bridle-paths, and 1,200 miles of byways, and since 1998 the area of land accessible by right to the public has increased threefold. The evidence makes it clear people are not using what is already there, so any changes should focus on increasing responsible use of existing access.”
‘Be seen on farm’: FUW
THE FARMERS’ Union of Wales has launched new reflective armbands as part of its commitment to promote farm safety.
The new armbands can be worn by all family members to help them to be seen better in the dark and will be available from all FUW stands during the show season.
FUW Marketing Manager Meryl Roberts said: “If we are seen we are much safer and these armbands are a practical addition to any farm outfit. Of course, it won’t fix all of the problems but it might just help a little, given that most farm clothes are dark and farming doesn’t stop just because the sun has gone down.
“The armbands are functional and can be worn in all types of weather. And above all, they support our commitment as a Union to promote farm safety in any way we can. Being seen is the first step to keeping safe after all, so get in touch with your local FUW office to get your free armband today or come see us at your local county show!”
Passionate young farmers wanted!
A GROUP of enthusiastic young farmers, who are making a real difference within farming and have great stories to tell, are being sought to join the NFU in one of the most popular historic civic pageants in the world.
The NFU has launched a competition to find eight young farmers who will land starring roles representing British farming in the 2018 Lord Mayor’s show and take the Back British Farming message to the streets of the City of London.
The 803rd parade takes place on Saturday, November 10, and is featured in a live BBC broadcast. The NFU will be joined by Massey Ferguson to support the Worshipful Company of Farmers in this year’s show. The entry will incorporate a tractor, combine harvester and food with the participants providing the heart and soul of the exhibit.
As an additional prize this year, Massey Ferguson is inviting one of the young farmers on a special trip to Beauvais in Northern France as a guest to tour the factory and enjoy an overnight stay.
NFU Cymru President, John Davies said: “It’s always great fun having the young farmers with us at the Lord Mayor’s Show as it provides the perfect platform to engage with the watching crowds and let them know about farming’s role in producing their food and looking after the iconic British countryside.
“We are hoping this competition, with the added incentive of a trip to the Massey Ferguson factory in France, will help showcase another group of young farmers who’re all enthusiastic and passionate about what they do – producing the nation’s food.”
NFU Cymru member, Tom Rees, who was part of the young farmer group last year, said: “For me, participating in the Lord Mayor’s Show as the NFU Cymru representative was a once in a lifetime experience – a particular highlight was seeing the enthusiasm the British public had for British farmers – it was fantastic to see everyone fully support the campaign and message we were promoting.
“It’s so important that we, as the future generation of farmers, open a dialogue with the public about the provenance of their food and the Lord Mayor’s Show is an excellent way to do so.
“If you are a young farmer who is passionate about the future of our industry then I would encourage you to apply and get your voice heard.”
The NFU is asking for nominations for young farmers, aged 18-30, who have made an outstanding contribution to the farming sector and who are passionate about the industry. Please include as much information as possible on why you think your nominee deserves to represent British farming and the wider farming industry at this year’s Lord Mayor’s Show.
Nominations close on Sunday 19 August and a shortlist of finalists will be drawn up for 31 August by a panel of farming experts
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