Why would Britain destroy over 15 million sheepskins every year?

Why would us Brits (whatever that means these days) collectively eat millions of sheep and then throw away the sheepskins?

What reason could compel so many otherwise sensible, rational, people to disregard nearly sixteen million quality home-grown furs every year, even after they have already eaten the sheep?

Us Brits are perfectly squeamish about fur, particularly since the 1980’s. In the 80’s and before there was of course disquiet around fur, from the unearned opulent absurdity of an eight-leopard skin coat, through the factory farmed mink, living only to give up their own skin. Something about it leaves us unsettled.

We don’t lack firmness of stomach when it comes to meat though, chomping our way through some 16 million sheep a year at last count. Add to this pigs, cows and chickens… We eat a LOT of animals, but we only get squeamish about the sheep’s skin once we’ve eaten them.

How much would you guess a sheep’s skin, freshly salted and ready for tanning, is worth?

The latest market price at time of writing is just £0.50 GBP. This price is directly effected by how many people want to buy sheepskins. It is as simple as that. Most skins are destroyed before even 50 pence worth of salt is added.

Tanning a skin costs time and money, obviously, but without consumer demand the industry is operating on skeleton crew. It has been since the 80’s when the Clothes Show’s campaign to champion sheepskin crashed and burned to a more successful anti fur campaign. The sexiness of sheepskin (I know, right?) was pitted against the cruelty of mink farms, and the absurd spectacle emerged of the previously naive “I didn’t know leopard skin coats were bad” types, now suddenly woke and burning their 8-skin furs on a public bonfire in Trafalgar Square. 

Their intentions were good.

The trouble is between the anti-fur lobby and Del Boy Trotter, sheepskin somehow lost its media savvy. Still making an appearance in front of small screens everywhere: the glamorous lamb cut. If we can see the value in the food, might we reach a point where we can have a more honest conversation about what we are eating?

I have a dream.

My ambition is to change the lot of the humble sheepskin. I want us to reflect on human survival on Island Britain. When one ponders a hill fort, or archeological remains of a Bronze Age settlement, one looks for signs of human survival: cooking, building, hunting. One essential human activity has left little more than ash remains – that activity is keeping warm. 

It is my belief that without sheep, and their skins, humans could not have survived in Britain. My ambition is to rekindle a love of sheepskin, not as a consumer product that can be mass-marketed, but as a simple realistic acknowledgement that we are humans, with basic human needs.

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