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    Posted 28 May 2002

    A DISSERTATION on the future of a rare breed of sheep, believed to have been introduced to England by the Vikings, has won a prestigious prize from the Worshipful Company of Woolmen.

    The Marshall Bursary will be awarded to Miss Rachel Relph, 22, from Cumbria, for 'The future of the Herdwick sheep', which she wrote as the final year dissertation for her Negotiated Studies BSc (Hons) degree in Rural Management and Animal Production Systems.

    Herdwick sheep in England can be traced back to the 12th Century and were historically bred for meat and for wool. Their ability to survive on the sparsest and highest terrain has earned Herdwick sheep the title of the hardiest breed in Britain.

    Ninety-nine per cent of the total national flock of Herdwick sheep, estimated at just 100,000 animals prior to the outbreak of Foot & Mouth Disease, is found in the Northwest region of the Lake District.

    The small size of the national flock and its proximity to areas hit by FMD led to the culling of large numbers of Herdwick sheep, particularly from young, replacement stock. It is believed that as much as a third of the population may have been lost.

    Miss Relph's work considers the remaining quantity and age structure of the breed and looks at the ways that the meat and wool of the Herdwick breed can be marketed and commercially used.

    Miss Relph draws upon her own research to show how Herdwick meat can become a celebrated speciality, and how Herdwick wool, in the form of carpets and other products could have a healthier future.

    Miss Relph's research also shows that the average age of the Cumbrian fell-going Herdwick farmer is more than 50 years old and 57 per cent of Herdwick farms have no successor. Miss Relph concludes that finding a new generation of capable Herdwick hill farmers poses the biggest threat to the breed.

    Miss Relph is in the fourth and final year of her course at Harper Adams University College, Shropshire, the UK's largest specialist provider of Higher Education for the land and food-based industries.

    She will be officially named the winner of the Marshall Bursary, and present a bound copy of her thesis to the Master of the Worshipful Company of Woolmen, when she attends the Ladies Dinner at the Grocers' Hall, London on June 26, 2002.


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