The environmental benefits of sheep farming, especially in the upland areas, must not be underestimated.
That was the message from Lanarkshire hill farmer Jennifer Craig at the Highland Sheep event at Kinnahaird Farm, near Strathpeffer, Ross-shire.
Ms Craig, who is a member of the National Sheep Association’s (NSA) Scottish board, said hill farmers should be proud that their methods of farming bring huge benefits to the environment.
Outlining the key findings from a NSA report into the complementary role of sheep on the hills, Ms Craig said hill farmers were among the most environmentally friendly as they were using little, if not no, inputs on the land.
“I think our environmental benefits are one of the biggest pluses that we have to sell what we are doing to the public,” she said.
“The way I farm is allowing the Scottish countryside to look the way it does. We need to push that message out to the wider industry.”
She said without people farming the hills, the Scottish countryside, which attracts millions of visitors every year, would not be such a draw.
“If there were no hill farms in the local areas a lot of these rural villages would disappear,” added Ms Craig.
“Without us [hill farmers] there would be a serious increase in land abandonment.”
Her comments echo those made by Sutherland sheep farmer Joyce Campbell, of Armadale Farm.
Speaking during the opening ceremony of Highland Sheep, Ms Campbell said the lights were being kept on in the glens thanks to sheep farmers.
NSA Scotland chairman John Fyall agreed and said the contribution of the sheep industry to the rural economy was significant.
He told farmers: “We need to make sure we are seen as an industry worth protecting.”