THE story of Herdwick lamb and mutton is being told in a push to get meat from the iconic Cumbrian sheep on to Asian plates.

The head of a Hong Kong food company spent last weekend in the Herdwick heartlands as part of a project to spearhead the survival of the rare sheep breed.

Heritage Foods owner Bennet Lee, together with a film crew, spent three days familiarising themselves with the unique, traditional practice of the Lakeland Herdwick farmers.

They visited Will and Emma Benson at Townhead Farm in Grasmere, and took part in a fell gather of Herdwick sheep, and the scanning of the farm’s pregnant ewes.

They also spent time with author and Herdwick farmer James Rebanks and were served Townhead Farm’s Herdwick lamb, fresh from the fells, at the new Forest Side Hotel in Grasmere by chef Kevin Tickle.

The Prince’s Countryside Fund is backing a new Herdwick Project which aims to tackle low farming incomes by finding profitable markets for Herdwick meat.

Project manager Mary Houston said Mr Lee was ‘bowled’ over by the Herdwick story.

“Mr Lee wanted to capture the life of the Herdwick farmers on film. He wanted to communicate their story back home,” said Mary.

“We had been having dialogue with this buyer for six months, but his visit was delayed because of the floods.

“We had refused other export opportunities because some wanted to take back just the best cuts to Asia.

“It was the whole carcass or nothing, and we stuck to our guns,” she added.

In the meantime, Herdwick meat has got a foothold in the door of restaurants in London, and according to Mary it is not showing any signs of slowing down.

“We are here to achieve premium prices for Herdwick farmers, who work in extremely challenging conditions to give us a wonderful product, and to maintain our treasured landscape, which is enjoyed by millions of visitors each year,” she said.

The visit was also arranged in conjunction with the Herdwick Sheep Breeders Association (HSBA).

Secretary Amanda Carson said: “It’s very exciting.

“Mr Lee’s whole ethos is to try to promote a speciality product and preserve the breed. He helped to bring the sheep down from the fellside, and was on a quad bike. He got the whole Herdwick experience.

“He had read James Rebanks’ book and was totally bowled over by the whole story, and he had tasted Herdwick meat in London.”

She added: “Making these links with Hong Kong helps to increase the international understanding of the importance of Herdwicks, and helps us to underpin the future of the breed, and the livelihoods of our dedicated farmers.”

The Protected Designation of Origin (PDO) stamp, awarded by the European Union in 2012, means meat can only be described as Lakeland Herdwick provided it comes from the Herdwick breed and was born, raised and slaughtered in the county of Cumbria.

Herdwicks are considered to be the most hardy of all Britain’s breeds of hill sheep, with 99 per cent of them kept in commercial flocks more than 3,000ft up on the Lake District fells.