12 October 2012

British Wool Week

Perhaps they don't realise it, but visitors to the Lake District owe a debt to the sheep here whose efforts help to keep the fells looking the way they do (without them scrub and bracken would take over); so Lead Ranger (and local farmer) John is introducing us to British Wool Week ...

As our resident farmer it has fallen on myself to bring to everyone's attention that the coming week is British Wool Week, the aim is to get people thinking more about wool as a product. Over the last twenty years wool as a clothing and manufacturing product has been in decline as synthetic materials have been more popular. This has meant farmers have got very little for the fleeces they take of the sheep each year, it costs around £1.50 to get a sheep sheared and the wool was worth less then 50p with the coarser fleeces like Herdwick being virtually unsalable. In the past much of the wool produced in the area went into products like blankets and carpets because it was very hard wearing but the fashion of laminate flooring and duvets has virtually killed of this trade.

Man shearing Herdwick Ewe
In the past wool was an extremely valuable and important product and brought massive wealth to the country as a whole in fact the speaker in the house of commons sits on a bale of wool to emphasise its significance to the prosperity of the state. Locally villages like Hawkshead were built on the money gained from wool sales and the marketing and manufacture of wool products was very important to the area. it was always said that the money from the wool paid the farm rent.

Herdwick Wool Rugs
The idea of the Campaign for Wool is to bring wool back into mainstream thinking by emphasising its unique properties and natural credentials. The slogan "Live Naturally + Choose Wool: it’s warm, safe and gentle on the planet" is being used as it ably describes what wool is, a totally natural green product, with a hundred and one uses. It can be used for products as diverse as clothing, wall insulation and path building (as seen in one of our previous blogs).

Herdwick Ewes wearing there trendy fleeces
The campaign has been running for a few years now and has helped raise the profile of wool and many artisan producers of wool products can be seen across the area as well as more products in main stream outlets. This plus the rise in the influence of the Chinese market who still use a lot of wool has seen a significant rise in the value of the raw wool with Farmers almost covering the cost of shearing with the sale of the wool. I doubt it will ever reach the values of old but as a green, adaptable natural product i am sure it will see a massive resurgence as we move away from oil derived materials over the coming years. Wool is starting to make its way back into many outdoor clothing products and though we may not see the return of the tweed jacket as the popular choice of the fell walker you never know.

John Atkinson
Lead Ranger

If you want to find out more about British Wool then follow the link below
The Campaign for Wool


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