In 2015, Orford Ness Shepherd Andrew Capell took part in one of the National Trust’s own schemes that helps teams working at our different places meet up to spend a few days working with each other and share ideas and knowledge.
Here, Andrew takes a look back at his experience at Hafod Y Llan in Wales.
Being a Shepherd and in Suffolk, we don’t have many other National Trust places close by that are home to a flock of sheep.
Wimpole Home Farm in Cambridgeshire is very similar to a farm I worked on for many years in Leicestershire, and I go to Hatfield Forest in Essex to help with their sheep around five times a year.
So when I had the opportunity to take part in the Ranger Link scheme, thinking about where I could go was the first challenge.
I had been reading about full-time shepherds in the French Alps and how they control grazing by moving the sheep around in the day time and penning them up at night, which I thought was a really interesting approach.
So when I heard that the team at Hafod Y Llan was taking this approach with conservation grazing on the Trust side of Snowdon, it got me thinking that it could be the place to go.
So I filled out the forms and asked Kite, my sheepdog, to cross his paws.
After a few weeks, I got news that I had been granted the award and could start to make plans for my trip.
Trying to find a time when I was free was in itself a bit of a challenge, as I am responsible for our flock of sheep that are also used for conservation grazing on Orford Ness. But we found some time in late July that worked well, so off I went across the country from flat Suffolk to the hills and mountains of Wales.
My first day at Hafod Y Llan was about routine jobs such as weening lambs and moving the ram lambs off to some rented fields up the coast and then moving the ewes back to near Beddgelert.
When you work with sheep on a hill farm in Wales it can feel a bit like taking a very nice trip back in time.
The second day was all about what I had really wanted to see.
I met the shepherd looking after the sheep on the mountain and his dogs which we fitted GPS trackers -just in case they disappeared in the vast mountainous countryside!
In the past, 2,000 sheep have grazed Snowdon and this has led to a lot of over-grazing, especially in the top third of the mountain.
The project here over the next few years is to use just 250 sheep grazing the bottom two thirds.
The sheep being used are the Welsh Mountain, a very small, hardy sheep that is also hefted.
As with all hefted sheep they are born in the valley and stay in the valley, which makes this job sound easy. But sheep will be sheep, and just like us, the grass is always greener on the other side!
So we set out from the office and left the farmyard behind us. It was one of those lovely Welsh July days when it rained all day and I never did get to see the top of the mountain…
After just over a mile, we stopped and did our first counts. As you look at the side of the mountain you have to imagine a line about two thirds up marked by rocky out crops, an old railway line that has long gone and the odd bush. Any sheep above that line are made note of.
After another mile of walking and another wet count, we took shelter in a hut not much bigger than an old red phone box.
In here was a most welcome hot drink and a note book. A quick look told us that the day before, 52 sheep were above the line and today it was down to 49.
So the call was made to get them down and put them in the pen overnight to try and teach them where they needed to stay. Off went the dogs followed by the shepherd and myself.
Now, if you have ever tried to move fast up a mountain in the rain after dogs and sheep it’s not easy!
I think I spent more time on the floor going down on my bum and not up on my feet. The dogs were amazing, my Kite is a good dog and here on the Ness he is the best. But for little wild sheep on a mountain you need a different kind of training.
The dogs would work on their own and a lot of time they were out of sight, it was so nice to hear that I am not the only member of staff that spends all day saying “lay down” and “away”.
After about an hour we had the offenders in the overnight pen and we made our way back to the office.
It was a very wet day even for July and I did not have one dry bit of clothing left but it was a really great day.
After a warm drink and a chat in the office it was time to use some new language skills and say goodbye in Welsh (that’s Hwyl fawr).