Wolves Dogs and Sheep


Where’s the wolf Fido?

By User:Squigman (Own work) [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

I used to be quite good at statistics, but that was a very long time ago. Now I marvel at my colleagues at Footprint Ecology, who painlessly manipulate huge datasets, often with complex spatial elements to them.

But here are some simple statistics that I can get my head around, from the June Agricultural Census . There are 32 million sheep and lambs in the UK. This is a staggering figure – but what is even more amazing (to me anyway) is that the UK has the largest number of sheep in the EU – by quite a long way. Next biggest sheep producer is Spain then the rest are way behind (2o1o figures).

Nearly 100,000ha of “sole right rough grazing”, that is mostly upland grazings of heathland and acid grassland, has disappeared from the statistics in the last 2 years – where has it gone? Not to scrub and woodland.

112,oooha of permanent grassland has disappeared in the last 2 years, while temporary grassland under five years old has increased by 105,000ha. This is the direct result of the botched greening proposals in the “reformed”CAP, as temporary grass falls outside the permanent pasture greening measure.  I have blogged before about losses of permanent grassland – eg here and here, though indeed some farmers may have simply renamed their grassland as temporary.

So we have less permanent pasture and more sheep (and cattle). To my mind that is a simple indicator of intensification, as temporary grassland is more intensively managed that permanent pasture.

Meanwhile Wolves continue to march westwards across mainland Europe. Now Farmers in France are complaining (as reported in the Indy) that Wolves are returning to lowland areas of France and eating their sheep. France is 5th on the list of sheep producers but have just one third of the national sheep flock of the UK, on a much larger area of agricultural land. According to the Indy 300 French wolves are killing around 5,000 sheep in France a year. This compares with an estimated 100,000 sheep killed in France by stray or domestic dogs. The Farmers are complaining they may have to invest in “a savage dog” to protect their sheep from the Wolves.

As much as anything this to me shows how the quality of environmental reporting at the Indy has declined so much since Mike McCarthy left.

Sheepdogs come in two distinct flavours – dogs for rounding up sheep (eg Collies) and dogs for protecting sheep from predators eg Wolves. French sheep farmers seem to have forgotten about the latter version – anyone who looks at an Old English sheep dog for example would wonder how such a lumbering beast could round up sheep – they didn’t, they were bred from droving dogs strong enough to fight off Wolves. The Pyrenean Mountain Dog is another such breed.

Anyone wishing to re-introduce Wolves to Britain will come quickly up against the National Sheep Association as the main antagonist, but may find allies at the Kennel Club.

About Miles King

UK conservation professional, writing about nature, politics, life. All views are my own and not my employers. I don't write on behalf of anybody else.
This entry was posted in agriculture, farming, grazing, rewilding, sheep dogs, wolves and tagged , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

6 Responses to Wolves Dogs and Sheep

  1. Reblogged this on thinkingcountry and commented:
    some interesting statistics here…

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