Six months on the Biosphere has won funding from the Blackface Breeders’ Association, support which will drive the project forward and raise awareness that sheep farming is integral to the heritage and economy of Scotland’s south west.
Scotland’s first Biosphere covers more than 5,200km² including vast landscapes of hill grazing where Blackface sheep are the dominant breed.
Blackface wool is typically sold for use in the carpet and mattress trades in the UK and Europe, and wastage in sale and processing is high.
Use of Blackface wool in clothing has been in decline since the trend towards cheap manmade materials overtook the historic appreciation for hardwearing woollen garments that are locally made.
As the impacts of the global climate crisis become more acute, suppliers and consumers are seeking creative ideas to make the systems that produce food, fibre and fuel much more robust.
British Wool is helping the project source 1,000kg of the finest grade Blackface wool produced within the Biosphere region, for the creation and testing of prototype items of outerwear alongside a thorough exploration of potential markets.
Through their partnership the Biosphere and the breeders’ association hope to demonstrate that the potential of Blackface wool is much greater than its current uses suggest, and that in time far fewer fleeces will go to waste.
Melanie Allen, chair of Galloway & Southern Ayrshire UNESCO Biosphere’s partnership board, said: “This is an extremely exciting initiative for us, as it encompasses what is truly special about the remit of a UNESCO Biosphere.
"The Wool Gathering brings together innovation through partnership-working, combining creativity with enterprise to develop our circular economy. It is fantastic to see the Biosphere team collaborating with a network of industry experts to embark on this new journey to identify gaps in the market for Blackface sheep wool products.
"We are delighted that the Blackface Sheep Breeders’ Association will be part of that journey and we very much value their expertise and support."
Alec Telfer, president of the Blackface Sheep Breeders’ Association, added: “For far too long wool has become an expensive by-product of sheep farming – what used to be a most valuable commodity, has completely fallen off the radar.
"In these increasingly environmentally aware times, the importance of wool as an entirely sustainable, natural and biodegradable product cannot be over emphasised.
“This exciting project, where the aim is to produce high end garments entirely and exclusively from the very best quality Blackface wool is what has been needed for a very long time.
“We will be in constant dialogue with the project team in taking this well researched and thought through initiative forward.”
For more information visit www.gsabiosphere.org.uk