From the Middle Ages to the 19th century, sheep were kept not for their meat but for their fleece. The wealth of the early monasteries was in part founded on wool. In recent years, the importance of fleece sales to most UK sheep keepers has diminished greatly, as synthetic fabrics have replaced wool.

However, synthetic fabrics often depend on oil, which is diminishing, and cotton, which although a natural fabric, depends on vast quantities of water and artificial fertiliser and chemicals to grow and process. Wool is much more sustainable and wool prices are showing a bit of an improvement.

In 2008, the UK had the ninth largest sheep population in the World, at just over 33 million head. We come behind China, Australia, Russia, India, Iran, Sudan, New Zealand and Nigeria.

British Wool Marketing Scheme

If you have four or more adult sheep in the UK, you are legally required by the British Wool Marketing Scheme to register with the British Wool Marketing Board (BWMB) and market your fleece wool through it.

If you only have a few sheep, particularly those with coloured fleece for which there is a very limited commercial market, you can apply for derogation and sell or use the wool yourself.

The BWMB was set up in 1950 under the British Wool Marketing Scheme and is now a producer co-operative responsible for the marketing of fleece wool in the UK. The organisation’s main objectives are:

  • To market wool at the lowest cost consistent with efficient service
  • To improve the standard of British wool production.

The Board has eleven members, nine elected by producers and two appointed by the Government.

Each of the nine Board regions has a Regional Committee, wholly elected by producers and a Regional Manager, who takes care of the day-to-day running of the business.

All wool is auctioned and producers receive two payments – an advance payment when wool is delivered to the depot and a balance payment the following year, along with that year’s advance payment.

In addressing its stated aim to improve the standard of British wool production, the BWMB:

  • Gives advice on selecting breeding sheep for fleece quality
  • Gives advice on best practice for shearing, wool handing and storage
  • Organises training for shearers
  • Provides an “on-the-hoof” assessment of fleece quality in rams to assist with breeding selection. This service is free to producers.
Rosemary Champion

About Rosemary Champion

Rosemary lives on a 12 acre smallholding in Angus, in the east of Scotland, where she keeps Ryeland Sheep, Shetland cattle and assorted poultry. She was destined to be a smallholder from an early age.

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