Arresting The Sheep



Updated 9 July 2018

We bought a property in the middle of a Yorkshire village. It was a property that had “potential”, which is a euphemism for saying it needed a lot of work. It had been used as a transport yard, with lots of flat surface for vehicles to move around on.

My wife decided we wanted a garden, so she set about breaking up concrete and tarmac, building low stone walls, adding topsoil, and planting plants. As her partner I went along with it, helping as needed. My enthusiasm and commitment are evident. But we worked hard and eventually we had a nice garden.

The village is on the edge of a National Park. The significance of this is that the farmers on the National Park had to abide by the National Park’s rules. One rule was that there should be no fencing.

It is possible to manage sheep without fencing using full time shepherds and sheep dogs. Unfortunately most of the local sheep farmers had day jobs, and could not tend their sheep during the day.

At certain times of year the sheep are tempted into the village, partly driven by the moorland being over grazed, and partly attracted by the gardens of the village. Every year the sheep destroyed the gardens of the village.

Having just moved to the village, we did not know what was to come. The sheep came. They attacked the garden.

Eventually we managed to use the children and friends to surround the sheep, and drive them into a pen we had prepared. The last chipboard was screwed into place, and the sheep could not get out. The sheep all had markings, and we notified the local police of our action. In return they told us who the owners were.

We serve notices

Under the terms of the Animals Act 1971 we were entitled to distrain or “pound” sheep or other animals caught doing damage. We had to serve notice on the owners that we required compensation for the damage caused. We could also charge the farmers for the costs of feeding the sheep.

The farmers came to visit. They tried to persuade us that we should release the sheep.

They were not prepared to pay compensation, because they did not make much on each sheep anyway, and they were afraid of creating a village industry of kidnapping sheep and holding them to ransom.

There was quite a bit of publicity, with a TV interview being repeated in Holland, Australia and New Zealand. We know this because people in the village were telephoned by friends and family abroad who reported seeing the interview.

The local florist put wooden flowers in her window labelled “sheep-proof flowers”.

The local toy shop owner, a weaver in her spare time, had always worn a brooch with a wood sheep on it. The sheep now had a speech balloon “Free the Marsden 7”.

Time Goes By

Under the Animals Act we were required to hold the sheep for 14 days, to allow time for negotiation. The process then was that we would organise the sale of the sheep by auction. The farmers could go to the County Court if they felt we were asking too much compensation or were overcharging for the feed.

Their difficulty is that they were flatly refusing to pay anything, so the judge would not have much sympathy.

On roughly the 10th day we discovered the sheep had escaped overnight. The chipboard had been unscrewed, and the sheep had gone.

The farmers denied any knowledge of the event, because they respect the law.

Round Two!

The following year, we caught some more sheep, but only one farmer was involved. By this time we had inherited a dog (another long story!). We chained the dog outside the pen overnight. This time there was no escape.

The farmer told of us of another couple who had taken captured sheep to auction. No farmers would bid, so there were no bids. They had the transport and auction costs, and so they were out of pocket.

He was shocked when I explained we were going to have the auction in our garden.

Just as time was about to expire, the day before the auction, I was contacted by the lawyer for the National Farmers Union. He was in difficulty, because the farmer was still refusing to pay compensation. So he tried to persuade me that there was no damage caused by these individual sheep on this visit, and therefore no claim. I said that the sheep had been eating while we gathered the posse.

He rather foolishly suggested that my wife was lying about the damage. I said that I was not prepared to have a conversation on the basis that my wife was a liar.

We agreed he could come that evening to view the damage. I pointed out that if he wanted to stop the auction he would have to make an application to the court. As his client was refusing to pay any compensation, the court would not have much sympathy.

When he arrived my wife took him round the garden. He said of one plant that it had a leaf that was a very strange shape. She shouted “That’s because your ****** sheep have been eating it!”

He left.

About two hours later he telephoned making a pathetic offer, which I rejected instantly.

The Auction

The auction had been advertised, and a small group gathered for the auction.

As auctioneer I went through the legal formalities, and then began the auction.

We had a secret bidder lined up in case there were no bids, but he did not have to bid.

The sheep went for more than enough to pay for the feed and auction costs.

In normal circumstances I would have sent a cheque to the farmer for the change, but instead sent him a letter explaining that he still owed me money from last year’s trespass, and I was taking the surplus towards that.

The Aftermath

Our village was already regarded as a bit odd, and this episode simply enhanced it.

The local theatre company wrote a play for children about kidnapped sheep which provided a starring role for my niece. The National Trust agreed to pay for cattle grids in two local roads to make it more difficult for sheep to come into the village.

People in the village who previously ignored us crossed the street to say “Good Morning”.

There are fewer sheep in the village these days.