Topic: The sheep who shape ‘something more than a human estate’: presenting a neglected rural geography
Key words: rural space; production of space; more-than-human; sheep; UK uplands
This paper makes a further case for the increasingly-noted – at least within academia – need to appreciate the diversity of past and ongoing forces that shape rural space, making it – in poet Edward Thomas’s words – ‘something more than a human estate’. Whilst humans may overwhelmingly be prime movers in the ‘production of (rural) space’, we are not as absolutist in our control as is too easily assumed. Instead, there always remains an ‘excess’ in production that is exercised by animals, plants, other organic beings and by non-organic forces and entities. Humanity alone, in other words, does not ultimately control all (rural) production. This paper puts centre-stage the production of rural space by just one of these more-than-human entities: sheep. With a focus on the UK, it begins to map their substantial impact on the rural landscape, both physical and human. On the one hand, this is seen as being historically and in the present-day firmly directed through human agency, notably that of farmers and, more remotely, the scripters of agricultural and rural policy. On the other hand, the paper teases out more independent impacts from the sheep themselves, the excess to human intent that ranges from sheep’s own agency to unintended consequences more-or-less largely beyond either human or sheep control. The conclusion argues that the diverse multiplicity recognisable within such an ovine-centric view of the production of space should be taken into account within debates on rural futures, such as those ongoing over the fate of the UK uplands.