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Nine things you never knew about sheep

James Rebanks, author of The Shepherd's Life, reveals some surprising facts about ewes, rams and lambs.

1) People have farmed sheep and cattle in the English uplands for 4-5000 years - it is a culture as old as the Pyramids.

2) The Lake District is the UK's nominated site for World Heritage status in 2016-17. Its unique pastoral farming system is a key part of its historic significance. It is one of the world's most amazing surviving historic farming landscapes.

3) The average income of a Lake District fell farmer is £8500 (Source - Newcastle University). It is a tough way to make a living. Lambs are sold for a quarter of their real price in 1970.

4) The Lake District fells are mostly 'common land' - with legal grazing rights held by the grazier. The landlord often has no grazing rights.

5) Herdwick sheep are native to the Lake District. There are about 50,000 breeding females, but the number is declining due to environmental schemes. 95% of them live in a 20-mile radius of each other. They are classed as 'at risk' because of the threats to them.

6) Herdwick sheep are 'hefted'; which means they hold (without fences) to a place on the fell (mountain) because they are taught a sense of belonging by their mothers in their first summer. This stretches back countless centuries and has never been broken.

7) DNA analysis suggests that Herdwick sheep really did come by boat with the Vikings a thousand plus years ago. Their closest relatives live far to the North.

8) Because flocks graze the fells (mountains) together a system of lug marks (ear notches) and smit marks (stripes & spots of different colours in different places) have evolved to identify the sheep. These are captured in the Lake District Shepherd's Guide which has been published for over 200 years. Similar systems exist for reindeer herders in Norway and Sweden.

9) Beatrix Potter left 15 farms and 4000 acres in her will to the National Trust and specified the need to protect and sustain the traditional Herdwick farming system. The National Trust owns many thousands of Herdwick sheep in its landlord's flocks that are taken on by the tenants of their farms.

James Rebanks' The Shepherd's Life is Book of the Week on Radio 4.