An 1879 book by Richard Jefferies – Wild Life in a Southern County – contains this fulsome tribute to the humble shepherd: ‘If any labourer deserve to be paid well, it is the shepherd. Upon their knowledge and fidelity the principal profit of a whole season depends on so many farms.
The shepherd knows every single field in the whole parish, what kind of weather best suits the soil. When the hedges are grubbed and the grass grows where the hawthorn flowered, still the shepherd can point out to you where the trees stood – here an oak and here an ash. On the hills he has often little to do while the sheep graze in the hollow, waiting for hours as they eat their way. Therefore by degrees a habit of observation grows upon him. From this habit and the lapse of years, the shepherds often become local authorities and when a dispute of boundaries or water rights or right of way arises, the question is frequently finally decided by the evidence of such a man.’