Edward Hunt's Forest of Dean Miscellany

Fact, Fiction and Fantasy

Sheep Badgers

One can always tell a forester from a foreigner, for when he speaks of a 'ship' he does not mean the boat that carries away his coal from the harbour port of Lydney - he is speaking of the sheep that roam in the forest. These animals would almost seem to own the forest, except that the saddles of their fleeces are marked with the initials of individual proprietorship, and the man who runs sheep in the forest is a 'ship badger.' These amateur shepherds are easily distinguished, for, as they wander about the woods, there is always a border collie at their heels. The ship badger is so called not on account of his black and white dog, but because it is his habit to badger another man's sheep when he finds them grazing near his own.

Sheep badgering is of ancient origin, and some will tell you, without the evidence of written history, that it was a privilege granted by William the Conqueror to the foresters in compensation for damage done by his deer and the routing boar to their holdings.

In point of law, however, no Crown land can be common, and this freedom to pasture is a privilege and not a right. Also this privilege was granted to those whose land bordered on Dean, so that many a squatter and other dwellings within the forest are technically without 'right of commonage.' Furthermore, when this grant was made, the original bounds of the forest were far beyond their present confines, and the Severn side hamlet of Rodley, now divided from the forest by several miles of orchard and pasture, once enjoyed this privilege in Dean. A few small holders on the forest fringe still turn their sheep into the woods, though a farmer frowns on the practice, deeming it more trouble than it is worth. The sheep badger, though not invariably, is usually a miner, and nine out of every ten of them have at some time or another worked underground.

  The above text is from "The Forest of Dean"
                by Brian Waters
                publisher: Dent 1951

Edward Hunt