Highland Wool CIC

Highland Wool CIC was formed in 2022 as a Community Interest Company (CIC) in order to support a sustainable wool industry in Scotland. Read our mission statement here.

The Case for Highland Wool CIC

Archaeological evidence suggests that sheep were domesticated 11,000 – 9,000 years ago, arriving in Britain with Neolithic farmers around 6000 years ago. Evidence of woven woollen fabric has been found in Scotland dating to the bronze age[1], and by 700 CE[2], Britain was exporting wool to mainland Europe.  However, the popularity and value of wool has gone through a roller coaster ride since, with an increased taste for its meat and the resulting breeding of meat animals affecting the quality of wool, and the 20th century rise of synthetic fabrics further lowering its appeal. In Scotland, the oldest living farmers remember being able to pay the rent from the sale of their annual wool harvest, but for most of the youngest it’s now an annual expense, only carried out for the welfare of the sheep. In online chats, sheep breeders from large and small farms and crofts trade stories of binning or burning their wool harvest, rather than go through the labour and expense of shipping it to the Wool Board, due to prices paid for it dropping so low. This is not only a waste of an amazing, sustainable fibre source, but also environmentally shocking once we learn that 50% of a fleece’s weight is stored carbon, pulled up from the ground through grazing. When burned or sent to landfill, that carbon is released back into the atmosphere. But when wool is made into long lasting products, such as clothing, housewares, or insulation, that carbon continues to be stored for years, sometimes generations to come. And such products can be recycled or composted, putting that carbon back into – and feeding – the soil.

But today, while there are more sheep (nearly 7 million[3]) than people in Scotland, there are very few vertical (fleece to fibre) wool mills – and none in the Highlands. Harvested wool must travel from Highland farms and crofts to depots around the country, then to Wool Board processing centres far away, usually for sale to the largest buyer: China. If Highland farmers and crofters – seeking ways to increase the income from their animals as a diversification project – want to have their wool processed and made into yarn for sale in their own shops, that wool often travels to mills as far away as Cornwall. And at a time when farmers and crofters are feeling the pinch of reduced support and higher input costs, the minimum weight requirements, transport costs, and processing fees to have their own wool processed make this system economically difficult for the farmer – and the associated transport miles make it environmentally unsustainable.  We have created a system that turns this sustainable, carbon storing, income producing product into an expensive, polluting material.

At the same time, the population of the Highlands is predicted to continue falling, as services and employment continue to be focussed southward. There is a Highland-wide effort across all levels of society to address this issue in a way that conforms with the nations’s net-zero ambitions.

Highland Wool CIC has been formed to address many of the issues faced by the Scottish wool industry. Sustainability, support for farmers and crofters (especially small or heritage breeders) and the communities that depend on them, rural job creation, community empowerment. These are the arguments for the creation of Highland Wool CIC.

Our first step will be to build a low energy, no waste, micro-mill in the Highlands.

Highland Wool CIC is registered with Companies House, #SC737467; you can read our mission statement here.

Our founding directors are: Janet Charge; Rosemary Champion, Katharine Sharp, and Donna Gillies. Additionally, we have four more members, and a wide community of farmers and wool artisans who serve as advisors. Read more about our team here.

Highland Wool is very grateful to the Highlands & Islands Climate Hub for their support for our 2023 Pilot Project.

If you are interested in being a part of this vision – or simply want to be kept informed of our progress, contact us at info@highlandwool.scot

[1] https://scarf.scot/national/scarf-bronze-age-panel-report/4-material-culture-and-use-of-resources/4-4-organics/

[2] https://www.britishwool.org.uk/blog-britishwool-history

[3] https://www.gov.scot/publications/results-scottish-agricultural-census-june-2021/pages/3/

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