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Blackface wool project looks for new markets

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By Fiona Reid
Blackface wool project looks for new markets

FUNDING has been awarded to a project that is raising awareness of the integrity of sheep farming to the heritage and economy of South West Scotland.

The Wool Gathering initiative was launched last autumn by Galloway & Southern Ayrshire UNESCO Biosphere to promote the versatility of local wool and its diverse potential as a sustainable resource.

And they have now secured financial backing from the Blackface Breeders’ Association with the aim of demonstrating 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.

Blackfaces have been around for centuries and 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 tradition for hardwearing woollen garments that are locally made.

However, concerns around the climate crisis mean suppliers and consumers are now seeking creative ideas to make the systems that produce our food, fibre and fuel more robust – and the Biosphere project fits that remit.

British Wool is helping source 1000kg of the finest grade Blackface wool produced within the region; following scouring the next stage will be creation and testing of prototype items of outerwear alongside a thorough exploration of potential markets.

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.”

Alec Telfer, president of the Blackface Sheep Breeders’ Association, added: “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.”

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