William Welstead
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Sheep and contested land use in Scotland
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In Chapter 6 poetry from Scotland is considered in the context of the movement of sheep from the border regions into the Highlands at the time of the Clearances. Although it happened long ago, this traumatic event still colours narratives of sheep in contemporary Scotland. The Northumberland and Scottish Borders and the Cheviot Hills played an important role in the development of sheep breeds. It was here that the Blackface and Cheviot sheep were developed to meet the requirements of the terrain and from where the breeds spread north during the improvements inspired by the Scottish Enlightenment. The arrival of these breeds in Scotland, driven by market forces as well as ideas about improvement, was sudden and violent. In the play The Cheviot, the Stag and the Black, Black Oil, first performed in 1973, the new breeds of sheep are seen as signifiers of aggressive colonialism that displaced the subsistence-farming crofters so that their lands could be converted to sheep walk. Poets considered in this chapter are Jim Carruth, who writes from first-hand experience as a farmer poet, and Hugh McMillan, whose sympathetic engagement with sheep is both humorous and insightful.

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Writing on sheep

Ecology, the animal turn and sheep in poetry


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