Modern day shepherd and acclaimed author from the Lake District in Northern England, James Rebanks, will be a key note speaker at LambEx 2018 in Perth from August 5-7.
Shepherds are disappearing from the UK countryside but Rebanks, who has 100,000 Twitter followers and an acclaimed memoir to his name, says he will never give up on the life that has sustained his family for more than 600 years. Under the Twitter handle @herdyshepherd1 he tweets daily about his farm and his flock of Herdwick and Swaledale sheep.
Mr Rebanks said while farming in the Lakes District was very different to Australia, there were still many parallels between the two.
“We have many challenges, the hardest being the weather and the seasons. While many parts of Australia are still waiting for the autumn break, in the UK we have just had a truly terrible winter with many weeks of snow and wind and rain. My flock is worn down and holding on for spring,” he said.
“Our system has always focused on producing meat and wool from some of the hardest and poorest mountain land in Britain, as part of this I have to keep my sheep healthy from a range of conditions, problems and diseases. We have just suffered an outbreak of liver fluke and pneumonia so have had to fight hard to get through that with minimal loses.
“Another challenge is to make a living in an old-fashioned, small-farm landscape in an age of globalised food commodities. We need to try to tap into the love of this landscape by millions of people to generate new income streams. The fourth challenge is try and breed great sheep of high value.
“The fifth challenge is to farm in a way that is sustainable in an age when the ecological impact of farming is in the public eye. I care greatly about this and am trying to adapt the farm to make is as biodiverse as possible.
“My final challenge is to be a writer when I already have a full-time job and four kids. I haven’t entirely worked that one out yet, but I suspect it means missing a lot of nights of sleep!”
Mr Rebanks said it was vital for producers to reconnect with the non-farming societies they were situated in, to increase the understanding of what they did and the trust they had in it. It was also important to listen to what non-farming consumers and citizens wanted from farmers.
“I believe passionately that there is a place for many different, diverse, farming systems, around the world, including some very old ones like ours, if we can adapt and add value to our produce and landscape,” he said.
Mr Rebanks is the author of acclaimed memoir, The Shepherd’s Life, a bestselling book, which has been translated into 18 languages, not bad given he left school at 15 barely able to write. After dropping out of school James later graduated from Oxford University. Besides his on-farm work Mr Rebanks also advises UNESCO on how to manage growing tourism in developing countries.
LambEx 2018 Chair Bindi Murray says she is excited to welcome Mr Rebanks to LambEx 2018.
“James will share with us the challenges he faces as a shepherd and how he makes a living from an old-fashioned, small farm landscape in an age of globalised food commodities,” she said.
Mr Rebanks will also share the story of how the Lakes District was recently listed as a UNESCO World Heritage Site because of its amazing surviving pastoral landscape and the enormous interest in its farming systems.
LambEx 2018 is the flagship event for the sheep and lamb industry and returns to Perth for the first time since the inaugural event almost a decade ago.