Sheepdog training clinics to address decline of societies

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A North Yorkshire farmer has launched new sheepdog handler training sessions in a bid to address a startling decline in members of sheepdog societies across the region.

James ‘Amos’ Dewhurst, of Winterburn, near Skipton, is offering sheepdog handler training clinics in a venture known as Winterburn Working Sheepdogs.

As well as satisfying his own lifelong passion for sheepdog handling, Mr Dewhurst is keen to promote and encourage renewed interest in traditional agricultural skill as many societies continue to be hard hit by falling membership.

“Sheepdog societies across our region are suffering and numbers are declining,” Mr Dewhurst said.

“We used to have five Pennine Nursery Societies. One has folded and some of the others are struggling.

“If something is not done soon, more societies could well disappear. We urgently need to attract new blood, including people from non-farming backgrounds.

Mr Dewhurst is a long-standing member of Trawden Sheepdog Society and he has been breeding, working with and training sheepdogs for more than 45 years. Over the decades he has regularly competed in local nursery and agricultural show trials - both winning and being placed high in the rankings in numerous events over the years.

He farms predominantly Swaledale and Blue Faced Leicester sheep and also keeps a small flock of Welsh Balwens in a level croft, both of which are being used for his handling courses.

Mr Dewhurst will offer an initial assessment, first demonstrating his training methods with his own dogs, before watching each handler with his or her dog, to judge if there is mutual respect and to assess if the dog is at a suitable stage to begin training.

Suitable applicants will then take part in small group sessions, with each handler tutoring their own dog for around 15 minutes, before observing other dogs working with their handlers, followed by a discussion on the progress of each dog and another short session each.

Mr Dewhurst feels people will get the most pleasure from training their own dogs and he is hoping his clinics will attract interest from a wide range of people - from students to semi-retired people from non-farming backgrounds and young, up-and-coming farmers.

He said: “Sheep dog handling and trialling is an age-old tradition and we must do all we can to preserve such skills, while at the same time creating renewed interest in the work of our sheepdog societies.”

Mr Dewhurst, who is also a primestock judge and buyer at Skipton Auction Mart, can be contacted by telephone on 01729 830535 or 07709 078 698, or by email at amos1954@yahoo.com