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Preserving traditional breeds essential to Elan Valley

5 minutes

Hefted flock thrives in the Elan Valley

A mixture of tenant and in-hand farms are dotted throughout the 40,000 acres of the Elan Valley Trust’s land. Amongst these is Dean Addison, a sheep and beef farmer, who believes the hill land should retain its hefted flocks of grey face mountain sheep.

He is employed by the trust as a shepherd and works with neighbouring farms to manage the land around one of Britain’s most important reservoirs. To manage his 600 ewes and 60 shorthorn cattle he travels around the hillside on his Yamaha Kodiak 700 ATV, policing the area to make sure the flocks are kept apart.

“Our sheep are hefted, and because the grey face breed is well suited to the hills, the sheep can graze and lamb on the high ground with little intervention. It is important that we preserve the hardiness of the breed so that sheep can thrive on high ground like this in the future,” he explains.

The Elan Valley was awarded Heritage Lottery funding and some of this was dedicated to work with local farmers. Mr Addison and others spoke out to explain that investment is needed to enhance the landscape.

“I often find it difficult to access some of the land, but my Yamaha ATV helps. Maintaining fencing, feeding and moving sheep is crucial to the preservation of the breed. We want to keep the hefted flocks separate. This is their home, they know which hills are theirs and it is my job to preserve their way of life.”

He keeps ewe lambs to preserve the breed and is committed to having a flock that is hefted on the land rather than brought down to pastureland over winter.

“The sheep keep the boundaries on the hills. If I were to take them off the hills in winter, it would upset the balance and we would risk them not settling back into being hefted.

He explains that the conditions on the hills surrounding the Elan Valley are unique and have an equally unique ecosystem for the sheep.

“The weather, temperatures and terrain are different. We also have different ticks that some breeds would struggle with, but which the grey faces have become accustomed to. I am very restricted on buying rams because we have to find a way to maintain the characteristics of the breed or stop having hefted flocks on the hills here.”

The sheep respond to his calls and he is able to differentiate his flock by its behaviour. Reaching the higher parts of the hills is a tricky task that many would not relish. However, he has established tracks for his Yamaha ATV and is able to tow a trailer to even the hardest to reach areas.

“I need the most powerful ATV to be able to carry heavy weights up the steep inclines here. In the past I had a 450cc ATV, but since moving to a Yamaha Kodiak 700cc engine I haven’t looked back. My local Yamaha dealer offered me the Kodiak 700 last year and it is the best ATV I have ever owned. It has a compact body with the power and ground clearance I need to go anywhere. Yamaha dealers understand the challenges we face in the hills and have always been on hand to help.”

Mr Addison can travel up almost vertical inclines and is well accustomed to working in ice, snow and challenging conditions. His role is part animal welfare, part farmer and part conservationist.

“I am the shepherd at Penygarreg Farm and I have been in post here for over 15 years. I help neighbours and the Trust’s in-hand farms with gathering sheep for marking, shearing and dipping. It is important that we find ways to work together because the challenge of rearing animals here is not getting any easier despite having the best machinery.”

He sees the sheep as having both a right and a benefit to life in the hills of the Elan Valley. Maintaining breeds that can thrive on hill land and have been part of our heritage for centuries is all part of his local conservation efforts.

“I see virtue in rearing livestock and protecting the breeds that can be reared in the inhospitable conditions. If we lose these breeds, we lose the ability to rear animals for food on land like this,” he concludes.