Fury as former Defra advisor says sheep 'have to go'

Fury as former Defra advisor says sheep ‘have to go’ and calls for subsidies for farmers rearing them to be scrapped as it’s ‘costing the country billions each year’

  • Mr Goldsmith accepted he was in trouble but was taken aback by the ‘brouhaha’
  • He said the grazing of the animals stripped landscapes of trees and wildflowers

They have long been a defining feature of Britain’s rural landscapes and do not usually court controversy.

But the nation’s sheep flocks have become the subject of an unlikely – and fierce – debate after a leading environmentalist claimed they can cause more harm than good.

Ben Goldsmith, a former adviser for the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs and brother of ex-Tory MP Zac Goldsmith, found himself subjected to a barrage of online abuse from farmers after saying sheep ‘have got to go’ from hillsides.

‘It’s time to talk about sheep,’ Mr Goldsmith last week wrote in a post on Twitter.

‘The unavoidable truth is that sheep are the principal obstacle standing in the way of meaningful nature recovery in Britain’s national parks and other agriculturally marginal landscapes.

HARMING THE HILLSIDES?Ben Goldsmith says sheep devastate landscapes (stock image)

‘There is no getting around it. The sheep have got to go.’

Mr Goldsmith, who runs a 300-acre estate in Bruton, Somerset, said the grazing of the animals stripped the landscape of trees and wildflowers, which led to a reduction in birdsong and wildlife.

The resulting impact on the land itself was ‘making soil erosion, flooding and seasonal drought ever more frequent and ever more severe, costing the country billions each year’. But his comments, which have now been viewed over 630,000 times on the social media site, caused uproar among sheep farmers.

They described his words as ‘deeply upsetting’ and ‘absolute drivel’, with some saying it was ‘as one-sided as a Matt Hancock press conference’.

The National Sheep Association also released a statement in which it described being exasperated by Mr Goldsmith’s views, which demonstrated a ‘naive and uneducated view on a vital sector’.

Mr Goldsmith, 42, who appeared on BBC Radio 4’s Farming Today programme yesterday to debate the issue, told The Mail on Sunday he accepted he was in trouble but was taken aback by the ‘brouhaha’. 

He tweeted: ‘The sheep Twitter fan club are a bit like the Meghan Markle Twitter fan club – enthusiastic and a little bit bonkers!’

Admitting he is ‘anti-sheep’, he nevertheless insisted he also remained on the side of farmers.

‘In no way have I called for sheep to be banned,’ Mr Goldsmith said. ‘What I have suggested is that sheep should not be subsidised, that’s all. There is a huge difference. Sheep farming is hopelessly non-viable in economic terms.

‘As the average age of sheep farmers creeps ever higher, their take-home income creeps ever lower. In sheep farming, there are no winners, only losers.’

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