Wool ties across the Atlantic

Wool ties across the Atlantic

A shared concern for the welfare of sheep farmers on two different continents has brought two academics together in what it’s hoped could be the start of an international collaboration.

Dr Lois Mansfield, the University of Cumbria’s principal lecturer in outdoor studies based at the university’s Ambleside campus, has written about the plight of upland farmers and in 2009 wrote a book on the subject The Cumbrian hill sheep initiative which is highly regarded internationally.

It focused on the challenges facing Cumbrian sheep farmers and possible solutions as the economics of the industry continued to be felt.

In Canada, similar work has been underway for the past 12 months undertaken by social scientist Professor Nicole Klenk of the Scarborough campus of the University of Toronto.

“With support from the government I’ve spent 12 months interviewing sheep farmers in Ontario who are facing real challenges to find a market for their wool and came across Lois when researching the subject,” Professor Klenk said.  While on a visit to the UK she was able to arrange to meet Lois who has arranged a week-long research visit to experience aspects of the Cumbrian wool industry.

In a twist of fate, Lois also has experience of living and working in Ontario.

“In 1990 I completed an MA in rural studies at the University of Guelph so when Nicole got in touch it was an ideal opportunity to establish a link and share experiences,” Lois said.

In Canada, ‘fibre sheds’ have grown in popularity. The form of co-op has brought farmers and manufacturers together to discuss ways of making use of wool for mutual benefit.

“The UK is at the cutting edge when it comes to diversification which is an area where Canada could learn,” Prof Klenk says.

Meanwhile it’s hoped closer ties with Canadian producers could help mitigate challenges which Brexit now pose for sheep farmers in the UK.

“We’re hopeful this visit will mark the start of a long term relationship to enable us to build
on the cultural heritage of both countries which will help both thrive,” Lois said.