SADDLEWORTH SHEEP farmers are facing a new threat in their bid to protect pregnant flocks – unthinking mountain and off-road cyclists terrifying ewes ready to give birth.
Police are investigating after farmers complained bikers are ignoring “no trespassing” signs and causing mayhem.
Darren Hough, 51, farms 235 acres of land spread over Wharmton, one of Saddleworth’s highest and most distinguished landmarks.
He is supported by his daughter, Amy, a 21-year-old university student, and his father Bryan, 84, a legend in sheep farming who has written a book about his life.
Darren said: “Some mountain bikers are crazy. We have put signs up yet they think it’s ok to ignore them and frighten the life out of ewes. It’s a big joke to them.
“Many riders travel in groups at night. They use bright lights on their bikes which create confusion and panic causing sheep to scatter and placing them in danger of injury.”
A year ago, Darren lost some of his pregnant flock and newly-born lambs after horrific attacks by marauding dogs let off leads by careless owners.
Currently, farmers are reporting a good lambing season, helped by weather which has resulted in healthy returns.
“All we ask is visitors to the countryside remember the sheep are our livelihood,” Darren said.
“As it is, warning notices are torn down – we even had an abusive one put in its place. Some people have no respect for our farms.”
Farmers’ worries are backed by the National Sheep Association, whose chief executive Phil Stocker said: “We want people to enjoy the countryside. However, this comes with the need for individuals to act responsibly.
“The risk of heavily pregnant ewes miscarrying when distressed increases dramatically with riders taking ewes by surprise.
“This causes them to scatter and baby lambs to become separated from their mothers and starve as a result.”
“Off-roading is illegal if not done in areas where there’s open access permission,” he added.
“But we encourage farmers to provide good signage where appropriate to make areas of private land clear. ”
Meantime, the National Sheep Association is urging members who experience sheep worrying by dogs to share their views in an online survey.
Last year’s survey focused on the human impact of dog attacks, finding 85 per cent of affected farmers experienced stress and 78 per cent were worried about future attacks.