Colin Pearse (farmer who breeds the Whitefaced Dartmoor sheep)


The Dartmoor Society Award 2005

The 8th annual Dartmoor Society Award was made to Colin Pearse of North Bovey for his dedication to Dartmoor sheep and hill farming. The presentation was made by Dr Tom Greeves, chairman of The Dartmoor Society, in Moretonhampstead on Friday 16 December 2005.

The award, in the form of a unique hand-crafted ceramic plate, is given to those who, in the opinion of The Dartmoor Society, have made a special contribution to Dartmoor. The award plate has been made and designed by internationally renowned calligrapher Susanne Haines andpotter Penny Simpson. Calligrapher and artist Susanne Haines trained at the Roehampton Institute, and is frequently in demand for television and films. Among her several books are The Calligrapher’s Project Book (1987) and Pocket Guide to Calligraphy (1990).

Potter Penny Simpson has been resident on Dartmoor for 21 years. Trained at Dartington Pottery, she has exhibited widely both nationallyand abroad, especially in Japan. She is a member of The Dartmoor Society and her studio is at 44a Court St, Moretonhampstead. Previous recipients of the Dartmoor Society Award have been Dr Jeremy Butler, Geoffrey Weymouth, Fred Barlow, Wren Trust, Mark Beeson,Marion Saunders and Tony Beard.

Tom Greeves said that Colin Pearse had lived at Barramoor Farm in theparish of North Bovey on the east side of Dartmoor for some forty years. Since the 1980s, with his wife Hazel, he had bred and nurtured indigenous Whitefaced Dartmoor sheep there, thus helping maintain an ancient animal bloodline. He had absorbed the way of life of Dartmoor hill farmers and their distinctive culture, noting farming practice, custom, dialect words and place names. He had acknowledged Dartmoor’s “often unforgiving harshness” but also its “tranquillity and landscape beauty”.’

To mark the 50th anniversary of the Whitefaced Dartmoor Sheep Breeders Association he compiled a unique and remarkable book titled ‘The Whitefaced Drift of Dartmoor’s ‘prapper’ Sheep’, which was published in 2004.  Each family of Dartmoor sheep breeders was the subject of aseparate section, and the book stood as one of the most significant ever to have been written about the moor.

It was this outstanding achievement of record, combined with Colin Pearse’s devotion to Dartmoor hill farming, and all that it represents,that The Dartmoor Society wished to salute through this Award.

In reply, Cohn Pearse said that, in a moment of great joy at being for this Award, he had also had a sense of guilt, so immediately rushed out to see if he had paid his membership subscription! (Editor’s note: he had) He felt humbled and proud to receive the Award and, in so doing, tofollow an elite group of people whose different contributions to Dartmoor had already been recognised and rewarded.

He had been encouraged to write The Whitefaced Drift of Dartmoor’s ‘Prapper’ Sheep by the enthusiasm of the many breeders of our native sheep, and in no small measure by the sheep themselves, and his passion for them and Dartmoor.

He quoted the stated aim of The Dartmoor Society of being ‘an independent voice for those who find Dartmoor a source of livelihoodor inspiration’. He himself was very fortunate and privileged to be allowed a livelihood in farming, while at the same time gaining inspiration from being able to live beside the moor, to photograph it and to find peace to write.

In writing his book, he had had to be patient in prising out fascinating stories and photographic records, and this had made him a good listener. It had taken five long years of work, owing to inevitable delays while material was being forwarded to him and also to the essential distractions of dealing with the administrative burdens of the Common Agricultural Policy and such like.

Each old farming family photo sent to him brought with it precious moments as the associated history emerged, rather than being lost from the record. While he was being told many stories of the white-faced sheep, the distinctiveness of Dartmoor humour and dialect had struck Colin as being surprisingly prominent even today. He paid tribute to Dartmoor farming women in performing their combined roles of mother, wife and farmer. Dartmoor farmers had survived through a remarkable array of skills — such as shrewdness, dexterity, ingenuity, craftsmanship, husbandry and understanding. The continuity was exemplified by Shapley Farm (origin: ‘sheep which has been in the same family since 1630.

Colin thanked the farmers of the Whitefaced sheep for allowing him into their world of dedication, creativity and sustainability. They had inspired him to aim for a book that brought out the story of the succession of farmers, sheep and the use of moorland grazing over decades and centuries, to enable people to share fully in the 50′ anniversary of the Whitefaced Dartmoor Sheep Breeders Association.

He also thanked Tony Beard for his persistence in his BBC Sunday request programme in asking listeners to provide him with their sheep

and moorland stories to help build up the book. He felt humbled to follow in Tony’s footsteps as a winner of The Dartmoor Society Award.

Finally Cohn thanked Chris Chapman for the loan of some of his excellent photographs for the book – the black and white images certainly gave a strong sense of the past. His book continues to sell well and one now graces the library at Clarence House, the home of the Duke & Duchess of Cornwall, and it has also made its way to the USA, Australia, France, Scotland and Wales. Colin said to Prince Charles when they met at the Devon County Show, “Perhaps your mother would like a book?” “Well” he replied, “We might have to put up the Duchy rents”. Colin suggested that she could pay by instalments!