Rare sheep have licence to thrill

They are rarer than the world's giant pandas. But on Saturday five of them will star in a special Norwich cathedral Christmas event.

They are rarer than the world's giant pandas.

But on Saturday five of them will star in a special Norwich cathedral Christmas event.

Having overcome a mountain of paperwork, shepherd Chris Steel will guide five pedigree white-faced woodland sheep into the cathedral for a celebration of Christmas past and present.

His flock are some of the best performing of the 1,000 registered around the world, regularly winning best-in-show awards.

But each time they are exhibited Mr Steel, of Church Farm, Banham, near Diss, has to apply for a licence to show them and then agree not to move any of his flock for seven days after they return.

This may be bad enough - especially as foot and mouth disease, which the rule is supposed to prevent, cannot be spotted for three weeks - but that was just the start of the work needed to get the sheep into the cathedral.

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“There's no end of bureaucracy in doing something like this,” he said. “It's been an absolute nightmare.”

After applying and securing an AML1 licence from Defra to allow Mr Steel to move his sheep the next step was to get a licence from the State Veterinary Service.

This will, as the form states, “disapply the movement standstill period in relation to the temporary movement of sheep for performance reasons to premises that do not have a CPH number”.

Or, in other words, allow the animals to perform.

“Planning something simple like this has certainly become a feat,” said Mr Steel. “It's bureaucracy for the sake of it and it's not particularly pleasant.”

Jill Napier, community learning officer at Norwich cathedral said: “We are very pleased that despite all the licence legislation required we have been able to arrange for these lovely sheep to join us for the Christmas past and present event on Saturday.”

Mr Steel brought his sheep to the Christmas through the Ages event two years ago and said the children who were there were delighted to him shepherd his flock.

The 59-year-old, chairman of the White-faced Woodland Sheep Society, will be wearing full biblical costume and will lead his charges up and down the cathedral's aisles during the event.

“Last time I did this everyone's faces lit up and a lot of people couldn't believe they were seeing real sheep in the cathedral,” he said. “But they're not the best behaved of animals, and the person walking behind us to sweep up the mess certainly knew they were real!”

Other displays at the event include yule logs, 12-days, Father Christmas, presents, cards and it ends with a candlelit procession - which is where the sheep come in.

The event takes place at the cathedral on Saturday between 10am and 2pm.