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Blackface Sheep Breeders' Association awards funding to UNESCO Biosphere's wool project

Biosphere Blackface Sheep 400 x 400

In autumn 2021 Galloway & Southern Ayrshire UNESCO Biosphere launched The Wool Gathering, an initiative to promote the versatility of local wool and its diverse potential as a sustainable resource.  Six months on the Biosphere has won funding from the Blackface Breeders' Association, support which will drive the project forward and raise awareness that sheep farming is integral to the heritage and economy of Scotland's southwest. 

Scotland's first Biosphere was designated by the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organisation (UNESCO) in 2012 and covers more than 5,200kmĀ² of the south-west region, including vast landscapes of hill grazing where Blackface sheep are the dominant breed.  Blackface history stretches back into the mists of time; first mentioned in monastery records of the 12th century, they are hardy animals that thrive on upland pasture, even in inclement weather.  Today their wool is typically sold for use in the carpet and mattress trades in the UK and Europe, and wastage in sale and processing is high.  Use of Blackface wool in clothing has been in decline since the trend towards cheap manmade materials overtook the historic appreciation for hardwearing woollen garments that are locally made.    

As the impacts of our global climate crisis become more acute, suppliers and consumers are seeking creative ideas to make the systems that produce our food, fibre and fuel much more robust.  The Biosphere's remit as a UNESCO designation is to promote sustainability in enterprise alongside environmental education and research, and to test solutions to some of the most critical challenges of our time.  With the funding that the breeders' association provides the Biosphere's plans can now be progressed.  British Wool is helping the project source 1,000kg of the finest grade Blackface wool produced within the Biosphere region, and following scouring the next stage will be creation and testing of prototype items of outerwear alongside a thorough exploration of potential markets. Through their partnership the Biosphere and the breeders' association hope to demonstrate that the potential of Blackface wool is much greater than its current uses suggest, and that in time far fewer fleeces will go to waste.  

Melanie Allen, Chair of Galloway & Southern Ayrshire UNESCO Biosphere's Partnership Board, said: "This is an extremely exciting initiative for us, as it encompasses what is truly special about the remit of a UNESCO Biosphere.  The Wool Gathering brings together innovation through partnership-working, combining creativity with enterprise to develop our circular economy.  It is fantastic to see the Biosphere team collaborating with a network of industry experts to embark on this new journey to identify gaps in the market for Blackface sheep wool products.  We are delighted that the Blackface Sheep Breeders' Association will be part of that journey and we very much value their expertise and support.

"The Galloway and Southern Ayrshire Biosphere Board and I are looking forward, with interest to see how this pioneering initiative develops."

Alec Telfer, President of the Blackface Sheep Breeders' Association, said: "It gives me a great sense of pride and pleasure to announce our support for the tremendous initiative from Galloway & Southern Ayrshire UNESCO Biosphere in their Blackface Sheep Wool project.

"For far too long wool has become an expensive by-product of sheep farming. What used to be a most valuable commodity, has completely fallen off the radar. In these increasingly environmentally aware times, the importance of wool as an entirely sustainable, natural and biodegradable product cannot be over emphasised.

"This exciting project, where the aim is to produce high end garments entirely and exclusively from the very best quality Blackface wool is what has been needed for a very long time"

We will be in constant dialogue with the project team in taking this well researched and thought through initiative forward.

"Great oaks from little acorns grow."

More information about Galloway & Southern Ayrshire UNESCO Biosphere and The Wool Gathering initiative is available at www.gsabiosphere.org.uk