Lake District farmers team up with designers to turn Herdwick sheep into a fashion brand

There are plans to create designer hats, scarves and bags from their wool

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The Independent Online

They have been roaming the fells of Lakeland for 1,000 years. But the public image of Cumbria’s humble Herdwick sheep is now getting a makeover in an attempt to transform the breed into a lucrative international brand.

Hill farmers in the remotest parts of the Lake District have teamed up with an award- winning local design company to re-launch the ancient flock as a fashion label. There are even plans to create designer hats, scarves and bags from the sheep’s wool to rival the Western Isles’ famous Harris Tweed. It is also hoped the move could help boost sales of Herdwick meat, which was once so highly regarded that it graced the table of the Queen’s coronation banquet.

The new Herdwick brand will be launched on Sunday at the 165-year-old Grasmere Lakeland Sports Show, a country show which hosts Cumberland wrestling, fell running and hound trails. Bob Benn, 75, who has been shepherding a flock of 500 Herdwicks in Cumbria’s remote Ennerdale Valley since he was a boy, said: “The Herdwick are very hardy and the landscape of the Lake District wouldn’t be like it is today without them.

“The Herdwick brand is a great idea. The meat is the best in the land and if it’s fit enough for the Queen, then it is fit for anybody.”

Glenn Wilkinson, 58, who keeps a flock of 1,000 Herdwicks near the village of Coniston, said: “Herdwicks are lovely to work with. They look after themselves most of the time. They’re iconic.

“Launching the brand will help us get the best value for our products.”

Herdwick sheep are thought to have been brought to the Lake District by Viking settlers in the 11th century, although local legend suggests they may also have come from a wrecked Spanish galleon.Lakeland children’s author Beatrix Potter bred Herdwick sheep and won a number of prizes at country shows.

When she died, she gave 4,000 acres of land to the National Trust, with strict instructions that it should be used to graze Herdwick flocks. But Herdwick farming became increasingly difficult towards the end of the last century, when market prices slumped to a penny a fleece.

It began to cost farmers more to shear their flocks than they made from selling the coarse wool – and some felt they had no option but to burn the fleeces as waste products. Now the breed – a familiar sight to thousands of hikers who visit the Cumbrian fells each summer – is on the rise again.

In 2013, Lakeland Herdwick meat joined the likes of Champagne and Camembert when it received a Protected Designation of Origin badge from the European Union.

The new Herdwick brand was created by Spencer Hannah, whose Cumbria-based firm, the Herdy Company, creates unique gifts inspired by the Herdwick sheep.

Herdwick flat cap and scarf by Hedy Country

The family-run company has already started producing flat caps and scarves made from blended Herdwick wool under the firm’s Herdy Country range.

Mr Hannah said: “We came up with the Herdwick brand because we wanted to give something back to the local farmers and to help establish the provenance of the Herdwick product.

“Those farmers work incredibly hard and we just wanted to help them and the local community.”

The Herdwick brand has the support of the Herdwick Sheep Breeders’ Association, which represents farmers in the region. Amanda Carson, the association’s secretary, said: “The Herdwick is a unique breed and we don’t want to lose something so special. It’s important that we protect it and support Cumbrian farmers, who work so hard on remote and isolated fells in all weathers.”