David and Barbara Seamark are providing the sheep, and their sheep herding expertise, for the Woolmen’s 2022 charity Sheep Drive and Livery Fair, taking place on Sunday 25 September.
More than 1,000 pre-booked Freemen of the City of London, and their friends, in groups of 10, are expected to take part in the charity event, re-enacting their ancient right to drive sheep to market, toll-free, over the Thames at London Bridge.
The Seamarks, who farm at Wilstead, will be supported by young farmers, including from city farms in London, and David’s highly trained sheep dogs, who have appeared with David at shows and events across the country.
The Sheep Drive is fully booked, but the public can attend the free Livery Fair, taking place nearby on the piazza at the Monument. This features displays of traditional livery company and wool trades and crafts, with regular sheep shearing demonstrations.
David is a second-generation farmer. His parents started farming in 1947 near Towcester, taking over the tenancy at Manor Farm, Wilstead in 1957. Originally, the farm included a milking herd, sheep, chickens and beef cattle, as well as arable and grazing land.
"It just snowballed from there"
David said: “The chickens soon went and in 1963 the dairy herd went. My father expanded the sheep flock and the beef herd and in 1976 I joined the partnership. He passed the tenancy to me in 1992.”
The cattle were sold in 1987, when David increased the sheep flock and took on more arable land. The couple now farm around 370 acres and lamb 475 ewes.
Barbara, who is from a farming family, moved to the farm when the couple married in 1995 and has taken on the organising of David’s events diary, along with other tasks around the farm.
David’s father, Norman Seamark, a past chairman of the International Sheep Dog Society, also ran sheep dog trials and arena displays.
“In 1979, he had double booked a village fete and an event further away. He somehow persuaded me to go along with my one dog and some sheep to do the display at the village fete. It just snowballed from there,” said David.
“We have performed at the Royal Show, Suffolk, Shropshire and Cheshire shows, the Town and Country Festival and many other events across the country using sheep and geese. That’s our hobby.
“Then in the 1990s we undertook our first corporate event, a team-building day in Worcester using geese with the dogs.
“Now we do everything, arena displays, where Barbara gives the commentary, to weddings, birthday, stag and hen parties and company team building days where the participants have a go working the dogs. One dog even took the wedding ring up the aisle.”
Training starts at five to eight months
This year the sheep have been used far more as the geese have had a lockdown of their own, due to avian influenza restrictions.
David has 10 sheepdogs on the farm, one of them belonging to his son. They range from seven months old up to one retired dog, 14 years old, who is still active around the farm.
“We try to start training at around five to eight months, teaching them to lie down. I never start too early because they want to develop a bit first,” said David.
“Once I’m happy they understand that command, we introduce them to the sheep. They have seen the sheep and geese before but this is introducing them to start working with them.
“I’ll have one of the older dogs and about 12 sheep within 20 yards of me, the youngster laying by my side.
“You just hope their natural instinct of running out, round, gathering the livestock and bringing it to the pack leader kicks in. They are a hunting dog and we just try and garner that instinct to move the sheep to the right place."
Links with the Lord Mayor's Show
David and Barbara’s involvement in the Sheep Drive stems from their work with the Lord Mayor’s Show, which they were first asked to be part of in 1999.
“We got to know Bill Clark, who was Master of the Woolmen in 2012. He had this idea of revamping the right of the Woolmen to walk sheep over London Bridge and asked us if we would provide the animals,” said David.
“When he came to see us ahead of the event, he told us he had 300 people wanting to take part but he was hoping for 600. I thought he was optimistic, but we ended up with a waiting list.
“We bring our sheep along and the Woolmen and their guests then walk our sheep a quarter way across London Bridge and receive a certificate.”
Barbara said: “It was very quickly fully booked for this year. There are around 1,000 people involved and we’ll be following a very tight timescale to complete the event.”
David said: “I find it very rewarding to get involved in events like this. It’s great to be able to talk to, and show, the public what we do.”
For more information about the day go to www.sheepdrive.london.