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Do not underestimate the role of sheep in shaping our landscapes

The National Sheep Association (NSA) is extremely alarmed by recent comments from campaigner George Monbiot that iconic areas of the UK have been ‘sheep-wrecked’.

land abandonment

A mono-culture created by land abandonment in North West Scotland (image: copyright NSA)

The National Sheep Association (NSA) is extremely alarmed by recent comments from campaigner George Monbiot that iconic areas of the UK have been ‘sheep-wrecked’. NSA says such a stance not only underestimates the role sheep play in shaping our rural environments, but overlooks their pivotal part in ecosystems, local communities and food production.

Phil Stocker, NSA Chief Executive, says: “George Monbiot’s comment in the Guardian newspaper that the Lake District is being ‘sheep-wrecked’ is disgracefully misleading and conveniently overlooks the fact that the Lake District and many other beautiful areas of the UK were carved out and are maintained by sheep farming.

lake district sheep

A range of land types in the Lake District

“As the National Trust, Natural England, and English Heritage have proposed, the Lake District is one of the most beautiful places on earth because of the harmonious relationship between sheep, human farming activity, wildlife and ecology, landscapes and the local economy. Monbiot’s comments are out of date and suggest he has not visited the countryside recently but is trapped in an image of the mid 1980s when farming was encouraged, through policies, down a road that was clearly not sustainable. Those times are past and Monbiot needs to get out and have a look.”

The NSA says the bigger issue that underlies Mr Monbiot’s mischievous article, and previous comments he has made, is an important debate about how the UK’s uplands will look in the long term.

Mr Stocker continues: “On one side we have Monbiot calling for re-wilding with our uplands going through a long term transition into forests, and on the other we have the option of continuing to improve the delicate balance between human farming activity and our environments. The latter is clearly the most desirable as the thousands of people visiting these areas testify – they would not visit these areas and acclaim their beauty if they were not attractive places to visit. A transition to forests would lead to huge disruption and change for our wildlife and ecology, as we are seeing in some of the Scottish uplands, where removal of sheep is leading to a monoculture of coarse grasses with an associated reduction in biodiversity.

“Longer-term mass-scale afforestation would change our uplands forever and ignore the evolution that has occurred involving people, wildlife and environments over centuries. It would also negatively affect the increasingly important contribution that our uplands can make to food production, local economies and sustainable resource use.”

Many of these issues are expanded on in the NSA’s Complementary Role of Sheep in Less Favoured Areas report. Electronic and hard copies are available on request.


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