Dunes are not a baaa-d place to spend the winter
THE dunes of the Sefton coast must seem a different world to the hardy Herdwick sheep which have returned to the coast for their winter sojourn again.
The sheep spend their summers on the hills and crags of Cumbria, around Wasdale Head, a landscape that couldn’t be more different to the gentle dune slopes and Creeping Willow cloaked hollows they wander through at Ainsdale.
Up to 175 Herdwicks make the journey down to the dunes each year, with the majority grazing the landscape at the National Nature Reserve at Ainsdale.
Smaller numbers work – for the sheep are carrying out an important task keeping down rank vegetation – in an enclosure on the neighbouring local nature reserve at Ainsdale, where 25 of the woolly lawnmowers happily graze areas of cropped dune vegetation low on land managed by Green Sefton.
The sheep are kept in fenced enclosures on the coast and visitors are asked to ensure all gates are closed securely behind them – and dogs are kept under close control – in these large enclosures, just as would be expected of responsible dog owners on farmland.
The sheep will be present on the coast until spring next year, when they move back up to their native Lakeland fells.
The Herdwick Breeders Association explain that the word “Herdwyck” means sheep pasture and has been in use up in the Lakes since the 12th century at least.
Herdwicks can happily graze above 3,000ft and are as tough as old boots.
I can remember going to check on the Ainsdale flock in the very cold snap during over Christmas in the winter of 2010/2011.
Heavy snow had fallen (a real rarity on the Sefton coast) and deep drifts filled the dunes.
The temperatures was reading a slightly parky minus 13 degrees before I set out, but I found the Herdwicks happily grazing in the lee of a stunted pine as if it was a summer’s day.
They looked considerably warmer and more comfortable than I did, but then they were all wearing full-length sheepskin jackets.
Icelandic and Hebridean Sheep also graze the Cabin Hill nature reserve south of Formby for Natural England, while sheep can also be found on land managed by the National Trust at Formby and on the Lancashire Wildlife Trust’s Freshfield Dune Heath reserve.
The Herdwicks are counted and checked on a daily basis, and land managers are always on the look-out for volunteers to help with “lookering” – checking and counting the livestock while they are with us.
Training can be provided and if you would like to help, please contact the Green Sefton team on 0151 934 2961 or email GreenSefton@ sefton.gov.uk, or Natural England on 01704
The Herdwicks are carefully monitored during their stay in the dunes
The Herdwicks arrive and make their way to their winter home and (inset) the sheep grazing in their winter enclosure
Herdwicks are a hardy native breed from the Lakes