‘Even the sheeps on the hills is lonely’
by Diana Studer
- gardening for biodiversity
in Cape Town, South Africa
From a letter which inspired the title of The Hills is Lonely by Lillian Beckwith.
Aline Templeton – Cold in the earth I remember, for the background insight into the life of a sheep farmer. She, is a detective, investigating murder. He, is a sheep farmer. I remembered the book as set in the Welsh hills, but it is Galloway in Scotland.
But the sheep – the sheep were different. They had colonised Mains of Craigie land even before Bill’s grandfather bought the farm and Bill’s pride in and, yes, love for his heritage went deep.
The dog at his feet lay, nose on its paws, ears flat, in an attitude of utter dejection. Her ears pricked as her mistress came in and the plumy tail gave a token twitch, then she sighed deeply and the ears flattened again. They both looked so – so defeated.
The sheep came from a ‘hefted’ flock – one with a homing instinct for its own particular territory, taught by ewe to lamb down the generations so that they never stray. Even in harsh winter conditions they would scrape down through the snow to find their own forage.
But there in the pastures, when you looked closer, were rank grasses, nettles, docks and sorrel, the ungrazed land rapidly succumbing to the stranglehold of weeds. It was happening in every field, on every hillside: the pretty, ‘natural’ landscape with its velvet-soft green contours, so beloved of visiting town-dwellers, was produced by its flocks of sheep and no more natural than a shed of battery chickens.
from Aline Templeton's Cold in the Earth
This book was published in 2005, and set during the foot-and-mouth epidemic when flocks and herds were slaughtered. I wonder how long it takes for a new flock to become ‘hefted’ to its own patch. As the matriarch of an elephant herd remembers where to find water in a drought.
In May 2011most of the flocks of sheep we saw around Porterville, had a donkey grazing with them. Donkeys will warn the sheep of leopards. And will use their hooves to defend the sheep. In North Yorkshire and in the USA.
The dorper with their dark heads recall Jacob sheep in Yorkshire and Scotland. The 'dor' part is the Dorset Horn ram. I have a thick pullover in Jacob colours, with sheep on it. And the rug I'm sharing with Chocolat on my footstool. Dark head on a white body is a pattern nature favours. I remember the gulls on the lake in Zurich, with their dipped in chocolate heads.
Crossing the Riebeeck valley in July 2011, we found a small flock of sheep. Mostly rams with twirled horns.
In 2015 the National Trust was looking for a shepherd for a conservation project in the foothills of Snowdon, North Wales. Guiding the grazing of a hefted flock to improve diversity ... for heather and bog asphodel...
Pictures by Jurg Studer
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