SHEEP IN THE VALLEY OF ROCKS

Dr Colin Ridsdale

The Valley of Rocks had valuable grazing rights as in the winters some 600 sheep were placed in the Valley before being moved up onto the hills for spring and summer grazing.

There are few postcards, photos or paintings of the sheep, which would have been very dominant in the Valley being 4 times more in number than the present goat population. Many modern farm buildings were not put in place until the 1950's and the Valley provided a relatively mild climate, compared to the exposed hillsides, and free bedding materials.

History is recorded at 6 Acres Farm on a farm door next to the sheep dip, many of the figures are fading with time but  in 1944 156 lambs and 181 ewes passed through the sheep dip. After the 1950's it is probable that the number of animals even increased in connection with changing farming subsidies

History written on a barn door

If one studies historical postcards from the earliest issued up to about 1950 then over a span of some 50years it is clear that far more rocks could be seen than at present.

It would seem that the number of sheep is the only changing factor in the valley, as the sheep declined the vegetation changed. We have no records of the numbers of goats in the valley at that time; these would have been the white goats released by the Hewitt family and later the Saanan type goats and low numbers of the Cheviot goats. Heavy sheep rustling in the mid 1980's lead to few sheep being placed into the valley, declining in later years to some 20 or less. This change together with climate warming lead to the vegetation in the valley changing.

The goats were presented to the Council in 1976, and it is said that they pledged to take on the herd.  The Exmoor Ponies, the only animals belonging to the grazier, together with the goats in the Valley are supposed to maintain a grazing regime that will restore the valley to coastal heath. Possibly at a later date sheep will also be introduced to graze the shorter vegetation.