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Adam Henson: Our sheep breed in safe hands

PUBLISHED: 17:04 06 February 2015 | UPDATED: 12:08 09 February 2015

Cotswold sheep

Cotswold sheep

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The Cotswold Sheep Society hands out its annual awards to those protecting and preserving the future of our iconic sheep

Edna PowellEdna Powell

I’ve been devoted to Britain’s rare breed livestock all my life. I’ve always thought of our native varieties of cattle, sheep, pig, horse and goat as a living history lesson and considered them as a brilliant example of diversity in British farming. But many of the individual breeds would be unknown and unloved if it wasn’t for the bands of hard working enthusiasts and specialists who do so much behind the scenes. The Cotswold Sheep Society is one of these charities and its members are dedicated to promoting one of our wonderful local breeds. The Cotswold is a big, docile sheep that is instantly recognisable thanks to its long, lustrous fleece and the woolly mane which has earned it the nickname of the Cotswold Lion. Gloucestershire can also boast its own breed of cattle and pig but it’s our native variety of sheep which seems to have captured the imagination; it’s used as the logo for the Cotswolds Conservation Board, the Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty as well as the Cotswold Tourism Awards and there’s an image of a familiar-looking sheep’s head that’s used to promote the Cotswold Woollen Weavers based at Filkins.

The Cotswold Sheep Society can trace its history back to the 1890s when it represented the owners of 22 different flocks. By all accounts it was a busy and successful society but as the number of Cotswold sheep dwindled, so did the Society, and by the 1920s the organisation had fizzled out. It took another four decades before a group of devoted enthusiasts got together to reform the Society. Amongst them were some legendary names in the history of Gloucestershire farming; William Garne whose family had bred Cotswolds at Aldsworth for 200 years, Mrs O.H. Colburn who kept a flock near Northleach and the Dowager Lady Vesty of Stowell Park. It’s thanks to them and their fellow breeders in the 1960s that the Society is in such a healthy state today.

At its recent meeting in Northleach, the Society’s Chairman, Angela Reid, presented a series of annual awards to the members who’ve excelled in the past year. Among them was a truly outstanding breeder from Shropshire called Davina Stanhope. She keeps a flock of 300 Cotswolds as well as two other native breeds; the Leicester Longwool and the Teeswater. She’s a relatively new convert having bought her first Cotswold as recently as 2000 after falling in love with the breed when she saw them depicted in an oil painting. But she certainly knows her sheep because she swept the board at the Society prize-giving. Among her haul was the Frank Houlton Trophy which is awarded to the person who gains the highest number of points for showing their animals over eight agricultural events, including the Three Counties, Berkeley, Moreton-in-Marsh and the Cotswold Hunt & Farmers’ Show at Andoversford. Davina also took home the Golden Fleece Trophy as well as the Champion Flock and Best Home Bred Sheep prize from the society show. Despite her incredible success with the silverware, she’s modest about her achievements and insists that it’s the sheep that do all the work. Another coveted prize is the Frank Williams Trophy which is awarded each year to the person who has given outstanding service to the life and work of the society. This time round it was won by Edna Powell from Stroud. Edna is a remarkable woman, full of energy, enthusiasm and famous for reviving the Stroud Country Show several years ago. The event has now been re-established as a red letter day in the Five Valleys. The animal classes, especially the ones for Cotswolds, attract high quality entries and are fiercely contended.

It’s really good to know that the future welfare of this lovely breed of sheep is in such safe and experienced hands.

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This article by Adam Henson is from the February 2015 issue of Cotswold Life.

For more about the Cotswold Sheep Society, visit their website: www.cotswoldsheepsociety.co.uk

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