Jersey’s iconic animal – not always the cow, you know!

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At one time the Island was synonymous with sheep, wool and knitting – the Island’s name might gives some clue to that.

But with changing times, and fashions, and the effects of the Industrial Revolution and mass-produced garments, the Island’s own breed of horned sheep dwindled and finally disappeared.

Recently, as part of an observable renaissance of sheep farming in Jersey, the National Trust imported 20 Manx Laoghtan sheep – a rare breed originating from the Isle of Man.

These horned sheep, looking not too dissimilar from the original breed of Jersey sheep, were transferred to their new home on the north coast, grazing on the same land that the Jersey breed once grazed in centuries past.

Although this land – between Devil’s Hole and Sorel, encompassing Mourier Valley – is now mostly scrub, that is a comparatively recent and retrograde development.

It was not always the case, as hidden in the bracken and bramble, or cloaked by layers of ivy, is an intricate network of dry-stone walls, constructed originally to pen livestock.

Historically, Jersey’s coastal headlands and slopes were grazed by sheep, and were vital components of the Island’s agricultural system and economy.

But changes in lifestyle and the nature of the Island’s economy led to the end of traditional farming practices in these marginal areas.

Grazing of the heathland stopped, causing a gradual loss of these open spaces, with bracken smothering everything.

The National Trust’s land manager, Jon Horn, said that the principal aims of the scheme were to restore the grassland and heathland through grazing, and also to bring this marginal land back into agricultural use.

There were also many other benefits to the scheme, he added, including historical links with Jersey’s agricultural past.

The Manx Laoghtan is the closest surviving breed to that of the now extinct Jersey breed of sheep, which thrived on Jersey’s coastal areas up until some 200 years ago.

It looks as if Jersey, like Bo-Peep, has once again found her sheep.

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