Nude Ewe sheep may be different breeds but they all have one thing in common: they all graze for nature conservation. These flocks help manage large National Nature Reserves, local County Wildlife Sites and small private fields.
All of the flocks are heritage breeds which thrive on rough pasture and live easily outdoors. The breeds range from the tiny seaweed-eating North Ronaldsay to the huge Wensleydale with its long, lustrous fleece. They come from the Scottish Islands, the Yorkshire Dales, the Welsh hills and the East Anglian fens.
Best of all, Nude Ewe sheep produce beautiful wool in a range of colours and textures without any help from bleach or dyes. It’s pure. It’s British. And it’s just the way they made it.
Beulah Speckled Face
The Beulah is a traditional Welsh breed used to graze hillsides. It is named for its distinctive black and white face and legs. Beulahs are hardy and intelligent medium-sized sheep with somewhat lustrous fleece. Their ability to live outdoors makes them popular in conservation grazing.
The Nude Ewe Beulahs are located at Aston Rowant National Nature Reserve in Lewknor, Oxfordshire. There are over 200 ewes and several rams in the flock, which grazes on lowland calcareous (‘chalk’) grassland, a rare and threatened UK habitat.
The Hebridean is an ancient breed that originated – as its name implies – off the west coast of Scotland. Hebrideans evolved from sheep brought by the Vikings over 1000 years ago. By the early 20th century they had almost disappeared and have made quite a comeback. They are small hardy sheep, able to cope with almost any weather conditions. In fact their fleece sheds water, allowing them to stay dry even in heavy rain. The fleece is ideally black but may lighten with age. Both sexes have horns, usually two but sometimes more.
Nude Ewe Hebrideans can be found grazing the chalk grasslands at Pegsdon Hills and Knocking Hoe Nature Reserves in Bedfordshire. There are several flocks of about 100 ewes, and some years there may be as many as 30 lambs. There is also one ram, Dennis, who lives on a separate site with a couple of Shetland mates. Hebrideans are a primitive breed and retain much of their wildness. The one thing that gets their attention though is ‘sheep nuts’, little pellet treats. Sometimes just rustling a plastic bag will get the entire flock running!
As its name suggests, the Manx Loaghtan originated on the Isle of Man. It is a small, ancient hill breed. The breed was originally white, with some grey and black sheep but few of the reddish-brown colour we see today (the word ‘loaghtan’ comes from the Manx for ‘mouse brown’). Both sexes have 2, 4 or even 6 horns! Like the Norfolk Horn and many other heritage breeds the Loaghtan was once popular but declined in the early 20th century. The breed was rescued by enthusiasts from the Isle of Man and England, and is now popular as a conservation grazer that will eat almost anything. The breed is considered ‘at risk’ by the Rare Breeds Survival Trust.
The Nude Ewe Manx Loaghtans graze Bedfordshire’s chalk grassland at Pegsdon Hills and Knocking Hoe, forming part of a mixed flock with Hebrideans and Norfolk Horns. The Loaghtans are somewhat larger than the Hebrideans, and perhaps a little more lively: at shearing time if a sheep is going to leap out of the pen, it’s likely to be a Loaghtan!
One of the older Manx Loaghtan ewes at Pegsdon Hills is known among local hand spinners for her fleece. Most Loaghtans have fairly short fleece, which can be a challenge to spin. Most fleece is also quite dark brown. But this particular ewe has a lovely long, golden, ‘open’ fleece perfect for hand spinning. Every year at shearing time her fleece is put aside and sold individually.
The flock is also home to one especially cheeky wether, so if you happen to be standing still among the sheep, don’t be surprised if you feel someone chewing on the back pocket of your trousers!
The Norfolk Horn has been around for centuries. It evolved in the Brecklands and was popular until the 19th century. Many Norfolk Horns were mated to Southdown rams to produce the now well-known Suffolk breed. By 1950 however, only a single flock of 10 Norfolk Horn ewes and two rams remained. These became the founding members of today’s breed. Listed as ‘critical’ in the 1980s the Norfolk Horn is currently considered ‘at risk’ by the Rare Breeds Survival Trust. Today the largest flock of Norfolk Horns – about 300 sheep – can be found at the Boxmoor Trust in Hertfordshire.
This is a slim-bodied medium sized sheep with long black legs and faces, both free of wool. Both sexes are strongly horned. The fleece is short, white and close and is popular with hand spinners.
The Nude Ewe Norfolks are a small but growing private flock of about 20. Some of them graze with the Wildlife Trust’s Manx Loaghtans at Knocking Hoe National Nature Reserve in Bedfordshire. The flock is owned by a pig farmer who took an interest in this pretty breed and over recent years has been building up his numbers.
The North Ronaldsay is a tiny, ancient breed thought to have been brought by the Vikings to Orkney. Most of these sheep still live and graze on the Scottish island for which the breed is named. In 1832 a wall was built around the island to confine the sheep in order to maintain the grazing. Over time the breed evolved to suit this environment, and now prefers seaweed over any other food! North Ronaldsays come in a range of colours. The fleece is excellent for hand spinning and felting. The breed is considered ‘endangered’ by the Rare Breeds Survival Trust.
The Nude Ewe North Ronaldsays graze at High Wood Site of Special Scientific Interest near Northampton.
The Shetland is thought to be descended from the Soay-type sheep kept by Neolithic farmers 4500 years ago. These primitive sheep bred with others brought by Norwegians around 500 AD. Their descendents resemble today’s Shetland. The breed is known for its vast array of colours and markings, and for its fine fleece which has for centuries been popular with hand spinners and knitters. In 1977 the Rare Breeds Survival Trust listed the Shetland as ‘endangered’. But thanks to growing popularity on the mainland – especially among smallholders – the breed was eventually delisted in 2002.
The Nude Ewe Shetlands are a private flock of about 20 which grazed the lowland meadow at Thurleigh Airfield County Wildlife Site in north Bedfordshire. The flock owner is a textile artist, producing finished cloth and coned yarns for weavers. For more information on her work visit www.wodehill.co.uk.
This is a very large sheep with long, lustrous fleece. It originated in the Yorkshire Dales in the 19th century. Most Wensleydales are white with a distinctive blue-grey head and ears, however a few black pedigrees do exist. Wensleydales are the softest British breed, producing luxurious, high quality wool. The breed is considered ‘at risk’ by the Rare Breeds Survival Trust.
The Nude Ewe Wensleydales are a small privately owned flock of about 12 ewes and a ram. They graze in a large old Damson orchard on the Bedfordshire/Buckinghamshire border. Most years the ewes are tupped, resulting in up to 15 lambs. The Wensleydale’s blue-grey colour is most noticeable in the lambs, which are born almost naked. In fact the flock owner claims they look like little blue giraffes! For part of the year the flock shares pasture with up to 1300 commercial sheep. However the Wensleydales are snobs, and associate only with other Wensleydales!