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Assessment of the impact of hefting (heafing or learing). - BD1242

Hefting is a traditional method of managing flocks of sheep on large areas of common land and communal grazing. Initially, sheep had to be kept in an unfenced area of land by constant shepherding. Over time this has become learned behaviour, passed from ewe to lamb over succeeding generations. Lambs graze with their mothers on the “heaf” belonging to their farm instilling a life long knowledge of where optimal grazing and shelter can be found throughout the year.

On many tenanted farms there is a ‘landlord’s flock’, which goes with the farm whenever there is a change of tenant. This ensures that the land continues to be successfully grazed by its resident ‘hefted’ flocks of sheep.

The Lake District is particularly well known for hefting but it is also practised on common grazings in other areas of the country, as diverse as Dartmoor, the Brecon Beacons and the Snowdonia mountains of Wales. There are regional differences in the way hefting is carried out and the times when stock may be removed from the heft are important considerations.

Agri-environmental agreements drawn up for fell and moorland sites may adversely affect hefting by reducing the time sheep are present and by reducing overall sheep numbers. For hefting to remain a viable management tool self contained flocks are required. Anecdotal evidence suggests that hefting can increase biodiversity with sheep, having an improved knowledge of the grazed area, showing seasonal preferences for grazing different plant communities. Variation in the spatial distribution of sheep relative to seasons can also be greatly beneficial to both sheep welfare and shepherding, for example simplifying the supplementary feeding of outwintered animals.

This project will bring together the current information available on hefting. This will include scientific literature, grey literature, personal technical and practical experiences by members of the delivery team and some of the anecdotal evidence. The latter will be addressed by preparing a number of case studies looking at examples of hefting in different geographic areas and with a range of additional management practices. The case studies will include some basic costings which could subsequently be used as a bench mark for the practise.

The resulting report will identify regional variations and quantify any positive and negative effects of hefting on livestock performance, animal welfare, farm economics, environmental impact and landscape. The potential impact that new policy drivers such as water framework directive and agri-environmental schemes will have on
The objectives of this project are:

7.1. To review relevant literature and provide a synthesis on the practice and impacts (both economic and environmental) of hefting. In particular, to assess:

• What is the practice, why has it been established, and are there any regional variations?
• Where is it practised in England and Wales?
• What is the value of the practice in terms of conservation grazing and other environmental/cultural activities? Are there any negative conservation aspects of the practice? How does hefting interact with shepherding and supplementary feeding?
• What are the key issues? Are there any problems arising from agri-environment agreements (for example, off wintering), current agricultural practices (for example, increased lambing rates or buying in ewe replacements), and availability of farm labour, that affect the maintenance of the heft?
• What are the management costs associated with maintaining hefting practices?
• What could be the cost of re-hefting (e.g. following the loss of a resident flock)?

7.2. To identify gaps in knowledge and, if appropriate, recommend appropriate field-based research, prioritised and with suggested general locations

Project Documents
• Final Report : Assessment of the impact of hefting (heafing or learing).   (248k)
• Final Report - Annex : Assessment of the impact of hefting (heafing or learing).   (160k)
• Final Report - Annex : Assessment of the impact of hefting (heafing or learing).   (142k)
• Final Report - Annex : Assessment of the impact of hefting (heafing or learing).   (127k)
• Final Report - Annex : Assessment of the impact of hefting (heafing or learing).   (118k)
• Final Report - Annex : Assessment of the impact of hefting (heafing or learing).   (111k)
• Final Report - Annex : Assessment of the impact of hefting (heafing or learing).   (134k)
Time-Scale and Cost
From: 2007

To: 2008

Cost: £24,337
Contractor / Funded Organisations
Environmental Protection              
Fields of Study
Environmental Stewardship