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: 1°C 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.