Lesley Prior

Bowmont Merino, Westcott Farm, Devon

When Lesley Prior and her husband moved to Devon they had to decide what to do with the land accompanying their farmhouse. They identified a market for quality British grown Merino wool and despite being told by the industry that ‘you cannot grow Merino in the UK’ they were determined to prove it possible.

Now 13 years later they have a 250 Superfine Merino sheep producing 16-18-micron wool which is sold direct to a fashion retailer. Lesley who is not from a farming background admits it has taken time and money to acquire the necessary skills and knowledge but now has a queue of designers wanting to use her wool.

The flock was established by importing genetics from some of the best Merino flocks in Australia and now comprises of a stud flock with the top genetics to produce the best breeding stock and a commercial flock for wool production.

To enable her to sell the wool Lesley had to set up the whole supply chain for the retailer and uses the best early stage wool processors in Yorkshire. She also works closely with the retailer through events and appearances to promote the product.

Satellite flocks

Now Lesley has proved the concept is possible the challenge is to expand without compromising quality. She is focusing on increasing both the quality and quantity of wool produced by each sheep by improving genetics but also on growing numbers.

One solution to this is working with other farmers to establish satellite flocks of wethers which are very productive but low input/maintenance and then buy the wool back from them.

Lesley has been involved in development work for the Responsible Wool Standard (Textile Exchange) and is working with Bristol University Vet School on a sheep welfare project. She is also the only European wool grower member of the Australian Association of Superfine Wool Growers.