Flocks of sheep ‘hefted’ to the landDefra, UK – Science Search

An interesting concept, which I saw on twitter…



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

Source: Defra, UK – Science Search