Hefted Sheep Guidance Note for ROC Mountain Marathon

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Grazing committees have general concerns that running activity on the Open Fell – at this time of year – has the ability to disrupt the hefting patterns of sheep, and might also cause distress to sheep. Hefting is the term given to small flocks of sheep that, through mother-lamb generations, learn which section of the Open Fell (unfenced Fell) to stay within. This is complimented with gathering sequences in the early autumn. Gathering occurs in this season when the ROC Mountain Marathon occurs. Although there is the understanding that the events’ Open Fell access plans are fairly normal and reasonable for an event of this nature – along with modification to course planning – addressing this concern should help demonstrate the events’ ability to educate and mitigate.

Try the tips and techniques below and you will be impressed how effective they can be!

Hefted Sheep Mitigations

  • The 50 metre rule: Generally, sheep are reactionary within 50 metres of approaching runners. If you can maintain this distance, or if they move and then realise that you are not chasing them, they soon stop and watch you, to be sure that you are not still moving directly towards them. 50 metres is generally all that is needed.
  • Sheep will hear your approach: Sheep will hear, feel or smell your approach, especially if you are running as a pair or group. Do not shout. You can use this knowledge, by observation, to assist in the techniques below.
  • Alter direction temporarily: When approaching sheep, by looking ahead early/always, you will be able to steer around them – they are often in discrete groups. Although this can create a slightly (circa 50 metre) meandering route at times, it is unlikely to be onerous. Do not run directly AT sheep.
  • Alter speed temporarily: When approaching sheep, when they see you, slow down momentarily (e.g. as you alter direction) as above, and they have time to understand that you are not running AT them. Just 5-10 seconds of slowing can achieve this.
  • Avoid startling sheep: If sheep are near hazards; such as bogs, very steep ground / crags or fences, do not startle the sheep from close distance (as this causes the sheep to bolt recklessly). Instead, alter direction as above, or make a sound that alerts the sheep earlier.
  • Sheep trods: Do not run sheep along sheep trods. Make a manoeuvre that enables them to move to one side, taking tips from the above. Once you are past the sheep they will realise that you are not chasing them, and will cease running.
  • Ascending: Due to your slower running speeds, and earlier detection, your ascending causes less disturbance to sheep.
  • Descending: Due to your faster running speeds, and later detection, your descending could cause alarming disturbance to sheep. Employ all techniques mentioned above.
  • Leading runners: Runners ahead of you might have caused sheep to move. Be aware not to progressively cause sheep to move further and further away from the original place/heft. Also, be aware not to cause sheep to be moved to and fro across the hill.
  • Sheep will watch you: Note that sheep soon stop running once you are running past and away from them, and not looking at them. Use this knowledge as a technique to avoid disturbance.
  • On main paths: Sheep that are hefted near to main paths are more used to seeing people, and will therefore be less alarmed at your approach.
  • Assisting sheep in difficulty: You might find a sheep in difficulty, such as stuck in a bog or fence. Assist if you can or wish, though you might need more than two people. Exercise caution. Please report any locations of any sheep still stuck. It might be possible that the sheep have been stuck for some time, pre-event.


  • Cattle: This advice is not meant to be applied to cattle. There are differences and unpredictability in how cattle behave. There are very few cattle on the Open Fell of this event.
  • Out of Bounds: The event map will have several areas of Enclosed / Intake fell marked and monitored as Out of Bounds. Not quite relevant to the hefting mitigations, but important for event delivery. These enclosed areas often have greater densities of sheep.
  • Say Hello: You might be observed by a farmer/grazier. Please say hello.
  • Feedback: After the event, there will be a period of feedback and review among some farmer/graziers. It will be helpful to learn whether sheep have been disrupted or dispersed from their hefts, and it will inform our future event planning.

Thank you greatly for understanding these observations and techniques.

photo © Steve Ashworth

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