Sheep and people: who's counting?

Sue Blacker's picture
13 February, 2015 - 21:36 | Sue Blacker

There is a book, called Sheep and Man, by Micheal R Ryder, about the influence of sheep on human society - it is very fat and heavy and I will read it one day (as I also hope eventually to read A Brief History of Time!).

Meanwhile, we made a mistake by transposing the sheep and people populations of the UK, in our Blacker Yarns newsletter today!  We said that there are 2.3 sheep for every person in the UK but in actual fact it is the other way around.  We are very sorry and are sure that this will give rise to plenty of helpful corrections!

But this got me thinking that it might be interesting to some to know that the current numbers are only part of the story: the total number of sheep/people is only because there are now so few sheep in England ! 

Recent UK numbers are as follows:

England: has sheep 10.8m, people 53.9m, which is roughly 5 people for every sheep

Wales: has sheep 5.97m, people 3.1m, so here it's nearly 2 sheep for every person

Scotland:  sheep 4.66m are only just out-numbered by the 5.3m people

Northern Ireland:  1.34m sheep are again not much out-numbered by the 1.8m people

The sources of this valuable information are Eblex and the Office of National Statistics,for sheep and people respectively.

No-one seems to mention the sheep crime statistics or their immigration status as they all work honestly and hard!  And some of them are very good friends ... of mine anyway ...

Historically, there were many more sheep in England, but we exported large numbers to Australia (people 23.1m, sheep 73m) and New Zealand (people 4.47m, sheep 31m), where although the majority of today's population is largely unaware of the sheep industry, sheep are still pretty important.  World sheep populations are summarised by a British Wool Marketing Board fact sheet.  It is estimated that the population of England grew from around 2m to around 6m from 1066 to 1485, and Eileen Power (medieval historian) estimated that there were perhaps 12m sheep by 1485, although I am not entirely in agreement with her interpretation of some aspects of wool trading (eventually this may become another blog post!).

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