Hannah Jackson - The Red Shepherdess from the Wirral
PUBLISHED: 00:00 26 March 2019
A young woman who grew up in Bebington is making a name for herself as a shepherdess but she couldn't do it without her loyal sidekick. Emily Rothery reports
You may recognise her as Recruit 25 from the Channel 4 reality show ‘SAS: Who Dares Wins’ where she recently starred as one of the first women to be put through a gruelling selection process. But in the farming world, 26-year-old Hannah Jackson, also known as The Red Shepherdess, is making a name for herself as a rural ambassador.
Hannah’s story is all the more remarkable as she didn’t set foot on a farm until she was 20. ‘I grew up in a semi in Bebington on the Wirral and had no farming background although I always loved animals and was called Dr Dolittle by my family – no animal was safe from being pestered,’ laughs Hannah.
After graduating with a BSc in animal behaviour, she went to Canada researching whales. ‘It was a fantastic experience, but it was on a visit to the Lake District that I had that light bulb moment. It was a beautiful spring day near Coniston Water when I watched a lamb being born. I got talking to the farmer and realised there and then that’s what I wanted to be.
‘I applied for anything and everything to do with farming and threw myself into every opportunity, but my biggest break came when I undertook work experience with Derek Scrimgeour, the internationally renowned sheep dog trainer on a hill farm near Keswick. I went for a week but stayed nine months and learned such a lot.’
Hannah connected with one of Derek’s border collies, Fraser, and as a surprise for her 21st birthday her parents took her to revisit the farm where Fraser was waiting for her sporting an enormous red bow. With Fraser by her side Hannah took on contracting work.
‘I was a red-haired Scouser entering a male dominated traditional world and knew that I had to just get my head down and prove myself. If I had to turn a heavy sheep onto its back then my determination would get me through. I can be quite stubborn. I do everything – shearing, dosing, clipping feet.
‘I’ve gained respect but know that my job would be impossible without Fraser. His natural instinct means that he reads them better than me and can get sheep to places that I can’t. If he’s on familiar territory, he knows the end goal and could do it on his own, but I can’t let him get his head too much. I have to remain the dominant one.’
Fraser shows his eagerness to work as we leave the farmhouse. His ears prick and he looks to his mistress for instructions. Hannah has trained Fraser using the traditional Cumbrian commands and positive praise as a reward, although she is quick to admit that there may be a few swear words if he puts a paw wrong.
Hannah explains that fell gathering is her favourite part of the job. ‘It’s just you and your dog, away from the constraints of fields and fences and every time it’s a different challenge for us both. Herdwicks are the most challenging as they tend to split the herd so the dog learns to outwit them. It’s really stimulating and Fraser shines like a little star when he’s out on the fells. It’s great to come down and know you’ve done a good job’.
Alongside her parents and with the help of border collies, Butch, Jake and Flo, Hannah also holds leadership development courses on her smallholding in the tiny village of Croglin, which nestles between the brooding Pennine hills and the River Eden. ‘Dad does the inside theory which is quite intense, and I match the individuals to the dogs and work outside to develop herding skills through trust, connection and communication.’
Hannah also has a young dog, Storm, who will eventually work with Fraser. And last, but not least Bea, a lively cocker spaniel refuses to be left out when it comes to outdoor work and follows Fraser everywhere.
Having established her reputation as a skilled shepherdess, a big part of Hannah’s work, from January to May is working as a lambing contractor. It can be relentless, sometimes working 12 hours at a time. ‘I deliver thousands and thousands of lambs each year often working away in blocks of months. I not only work in Cumbria but all over the country with Fraser and Bea always by my side.’
She tackles farming with the same grit and determination that stood her in good stead during the SAS challenge. ‘I think trudging up fells in all weathers and carrying heavy sacks of feed has made me physically strong but Who Dares Wins was the hardest thing, both physically and mentally, that I have ever done. I love it here but I’m now looking for the next challenge’.
While she didn’t win the TV contest, Hannah has begun to capture the public’s attention and she was over the moon to recently come runner up in the Young Farmer of the Year competition. She has thousands of followers on Twitter where she likes to show the true ups and downs of a farming life.
After just three years of shepherding her Practical Guide to Lambing received enthusiastic reviews and in 2017 she was appointed as a National Sheep Association ‘Next Generation’ ambassador, inspiring young people who want to get into agriculture.
As if that isn’t enough this remarkable young woman finds time to visit schools around the Lake District and back home on the Wirral. ‘I’ve come across children who think milk comes from a tap – I would love a more active role in promoting British food and connecting people with where food comes from.
‘I’m blessed to have been welcomed into the community and to have a family that have encouraged me to follow my dreams. I’ve found the perfect life but I know that I would never have made this journey without my main man Fraser. He’s taught me so much and shows me the meaning of friendship and loyalty every day. He’s one in a million.’