Step into the green fields of Laund Farm to meet John Stott, the custodian and caretaker of the pedigree Bluefaced Leicester sheep who produced our low impact British wool.
We’ve already introduced you to the sheep, now it’s time to meet the farmer who’s dedicated his working life to the care of these remarkable animals and the land they live on.
For John Stott, farming is in the blood.
In 1939, John’s father moved from Yorkshire to Lancashire to take over the running of Laund Farm. The picturesque hill farm, set against a backdrop of the rolling Bowland Fells, is prime sheep-farming land with lush grass fields that are regularly freshened by rain showers, which can move in at a moment’s notice. Some eight decades on and John’s watchful eye oversees the running of the farm, with his son, Simon, handling the day-to-day operations.
While the rhythm of daily farm life is much the same as it was in 1939, the influence of the modern world is also never far away. John has seen heavy horses replaced by tractors and the installation of a state-of-the-art milking facility on the farm, which produces award winning sheep milk and cheese.
But John is quick to point out that the most useful piece of farming equipment has remained unchanged. When he starts the working day at 5am his loyal sheepdog is always by his side. "You could not actually work these kinds of farms without a dog", he says. "They're with you all the time and they won't work for anybody else.”
There are also essential skills of farming that are timeless. “Listen, look and learn” are the three Ls that John lives by. In his experience, if you can find the time to stand back and observe, the livestock and the land will guide you toward the right decision. And it’s in those moments of quiet observation that John is filled with a sense of a job well done.
Different sheep breeds have difference qualities, and it's the unique fleece of the Bluefaced Leicester that make it perfectly suited for clothing. As a former chairman of the Bluefaced Leicester Sheep Society, John has spent much of his working life observing these sought-after, and somewhat high maintenance, pedigree sheep.
“A farmer knows what he's looking for”, he says. “The fleece needs to be quite dense. You wanted a fine staple of the wool - keep the rain out, keep the wind out.”
For anyone without John's decades of farming experience, the "staple"refers to the length and diameter of the wool fibres that are harvested from the sheep. As a general rule, the longer and finer the staple the higher quality the wool.
As John notes, the Bluefaced Leicester has a naturally fine and and tightly woven fleece, engineered to keep them warm and dry in the field, but which also makes the wool super-soft and lustrous when it's processed into yarn for clothing.
Beyond the boundaries of the farm, the historic decline of the British wool industry has had a noticeable impact on farm business.
"The wool in my father's day was quite valuable and usually paid the rent”, John says. “Now the wool doesn't pay for the chap to clip it.”
John’s experience mirrors that of sheep farmers across the UK, and this stark economic reality has forced them to bury or burn perfectly good wool. The Campaign For Wool estimates that hundreds of thousands of tonnes of high quality British wool are going to waste each year.
This change has been fuelled by the increased demand for Merino and other types of wool imported from Australia and New Zealand, which have relegated British wool to the scrapheap while adding thousands of miles and tonnes of extra carbon to clothing supply chains.
That’s why we were delighted to find John and his pedigree Bluefaced Leicester sheep. Not only do they represent a hype-local and low impact supply chain, but they allow us to do our small part in reversing the decline of the British wool industry.
Where others see a waste product, we see potential.
Another joy in working with John to develop a small-scale supply chain is that we can connect the different stages in the process that would normally never meet.
"We never see an end product”, John told us, as we presented him with a sample of our British Wool Patchwork Cable Knit, which he inspected with interest.
“They say British wool goes into carpets and things like that, but to see those garments today was quite rewarding", he said. From a northerner, “quite rewarding” is high praise indeed.
Special thanks to John, his sheep, and everyone at Laund Farm. Our British wool products are a tribute to their hard work, knowledge and experience.
Film & Photography by Percy Dean