Barcelona Field Studies Centre

EU Case Study: Hill Sheep farming

The Hill Sheep Farm as a System

Location: Lake District, U.K.

Categories: Pastoral, Commercial, Extensive




Physical Human

Relief: upland with steep slopes

Soils: thin, rocky, acid and leached podsols

Climate: 1C fall in temperature every 160 metres. Short growing season. Over 2000mm annual rainfall

Market: small in local area. Very difficult accessibility to large markets in the lowlands

Labour: little available in sparsely-populated uplands

Capital: often little profit to reinvest

Politics: EU subsidies and grants help some farmers to have a minimum standard of living

Machinery: quadbikes






Fodder crops

Lambs sold for fattening in the lowland (for meat)

Wool fleeces


Money from bed and breakfast

Characteristics of a Hill Sheep Farm

There are three zones of land use: 

  • The fell: the tops of the hills over 300m altitude sheep graze on this open land in the summer;
  • The intake or lower slopes: divided into fields by dry stone walls, some pasture is improved by adding drainage and fertilisers;
  • The inbye: the small area of land on the valley floor close to the farm buildings more fertile soils and sheltered. Used for lambing, shearing etc. and for growing some winter fodder crops, e.g. turnips, hay.

Recent Problems 

  • Hill sheep farming is not always profitable the land is marginal.
  • The threat of removal of subsidies from the EU.
  • EU Quotas (limits) on the number of sheep that can be kept.
  • Foot and mouth disease has restricted sheep movement and sales.
  • Radioactive fall-out from the Chernobyl accident (1986) affected mountain grazing land. Restrictions on sheep sales is still in force in some areas.
  • Costs, e.g. fuel, machinery, fodder, have all risen. Lamb prices in the late 1990s collapsed.
  • Fewer young people want to carry on sheep farming.
  • Conflicts with tourists and National Park Authorities.

Changes and Improvements

  • Farmers are continuing to leave the land or take part-time jobs in nearby towns, if available
  • New breeding stock to improve quality and quantity of meat and wool.
  • Greater use of fertilisers to improve quality of pasture.
  • Grants for new farm buildings so lambing can be done indoors.
  • EU subsidies and grants to encourage continuation of livestock farming in upland areas.
  • EU grants to protect and improve the farm environment e.g. conservation of dry stonewalls, natural pastures, stone barns, and hedgerows.
  • EU grants to encourage diversification of farms, either farm-based, e.g. organic farming, rearing other animals (deer, goats), or non-farm based, e.g. campsites, sporting activities, forestry, arts and crafts, rural tourism.
  • EU grants to conserve and enhancement the landscape for wildlife. Areas designated as Environmentally Sensitive (ESAs) qualify for grants to reduce the use of fertilisers, restore heather moorland and wetlands.
  • Some farms could not survive and have been sold often as second homes.