Dunes are not a baaa-d place to spend the win­ter

Midweek Visiter - - The Sefton Coast - with John Dempsey

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

John Dempsey

The Herd­wicks are care­fully mon­i­tored dur­ing their stay in the dunes

John Dempsey

The Herd­wicks ar­rive and make their way to their win­ter home and (in­set) the sheep graz­ing in their win­ter en­clo­sure

John Dempsey

Herd­wicks are a hardy na­tive breed from the Lakes

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