A GROUP of senior policy leaders and advisers from Defra recently visited a Yorkshire hill farm to see the important role sheep have in upland management.

British Wool hosted the tour at Hall Farm, Blubberhouses, a progressive hill farm run by British Wool’s regional committee member for West Yorkshire, Nick Houseman.

They saw how he manages his flock of Swaledale, Blue-faced Leicesters and some North of England Mules on his 475-acre farm, which runs to 800ft.

The Swaledale ewes run with a Blue-faced Leicester ram to produce North of England Mule lambs, which are then crossed with Texel cross Beltex rams to produce prime lambs for meat production.

The group then toured British Wool’s headquarters and depot in Bradford to gain a first-hand perspective on the importance of its work and role within the sheep industry as a whole.

The 12-strong delegation included Roland Evans, senior policy advisor, livestock and farming productivity; Robin Manning, trade team leader, agriculture policy and trade specialist; and Janet Carr, data analyst, sustainable land management and livestock farming analysis and evidence.

Ian Buchanan, British Wool chairman, said: “The aim of this visit was to highlight the fact that upland sheep farming is an essential part of the whole sheep industry. These producers not only supply the market with a niche meat product, they also provide breeding stock and genetics to the UK gene pool.

“Unquestionably, upland farmers like Nick play a vital role in looking after the upland landscape, whether for keystone species, habitats or for recreation, as well as protecting public goods such as water and carbon.”

Upland farming is constrained by climate, soils and topography. In the UK, this land is classified as a Less Favoured Area (LFA), with the majority falling into the Severely Disadvantaged category.

It is commonly used for grazing breeding hill sheep which can be used to help control bracken and protect heather moorland and other natural habitats.

Additionally, grazing sheep contribute to the improvement of peat soils often found in upland areas.

The group’s tour of the British Wool HQ gave them a detailed insight into its work marketing UK wool to global audiences.

In particular, they heard of the major challenges facing the business, the significant improvements already made and planned, and how the business was slowly turning to move in the right direction for the future.

Joe Farren, British Wool chief executive, said: “I am confident that, whatever the consequences of Brexit, British Wool will be able to continue to create a valuable market for UK produced wool.”