A shepherd and his flock

A shepherd and his flock

Foster relationships that really matter.

It’s been a big weekend for this shepherd and he’s having another busy day. Never mind that lambing is in full swing and he’s surviving on four hours’ sleep – another 10,000 have joined his fold in just a matter of hours. Number of followers now on Twitter: 55.7K.

That’s after the first chapter of his newly-published book ‘The Shepherd’s Life’ (number 1 on the bestseller list in the Sunday Times and top spot in the Guardian Bookshop) featured on air this morning – it’s Radio 4’s Book of the Week. Someone surely is queuing up to make the accompanying film?

That’s if the author is willing, of course. James Rebanks is first and foremost a shepherd in the fells. Like his late father and grandfather, he and his family farm Herdwick sheep in the Lake District. In the acknowledgments in his book, he says, “I have no interest in personal celebrity – our way of life is is much more important than me.”

He’s keen not to appear as the main focus of attention; “I tweet anonymously because that’s how I like it” he writes in an article for The Atlantic (under the pseudonym Herdy Shepherd). “My feed is not really about me: I’m just a narrator. It’s about the way my people farm an amazing landscape, the sheep, the land, the sheepdogs, and the characters in our valley.

Being able to share your life enables other people to see you for the first time, to see past clichés and stereotypes. For the first time, lots of folk following us on Twitter actually know a farmer. They know what we do each day, that we have a love of what we do, and a deep respect for the landscape and wildlife around us.

When you’ve followed and understood, then you have a little bit of you invested in our working lives. So when the extreme snow came last winter and our sheep were buried in the drifts, we were picking up a thousand Twitter followers an hour at one point. There was an outpouring of support and good will through Twitter for farms like ours. It helped.

Both Twitter feed (@herdyshepherd1) and book are things of raw and rare beauty. From a simple picture of a ewe (or ‘yow’) with her newly born lamb, to descriptions of gathering the sheep from the fells in summer, this is the telling of a shepherding year. It’s a story of a people with a sense of deep rootedness, who do today what generations have done before them. People with a place, a purpose and importance – even as the world changes around them.

Through using some of those changes for good and sharing their experiences, this shepherd and his farm have given us a glimpse into their everyday lives. It allows us to feel a connection with the land that most of us have lost – and to hear their voice.

James, I’m already reading and enjoying your book. I bet there’s others like me who’d love to see it made into a feature-length film…