How to herd sheep, or build a bridge, and call it a holiday

herding sheep Image copyright Thinkstock

Ever fancied learning how to herd sheep, or build a dry stone wall, but never had the time?

If so, you might want to consider a working holiday.

And whether it is a question of cost, or just an affinity with sheep, more and more of us in the UK are trying them out.

Probably the best known ones are run by the National Trust.

Melanie Marsh has been on about half a dozen working holidays with the Trust. This summer she is heading off to the Slindon Estate on the South Downs. She will be helping with maintenance work of the 3,500 acre estate.

Melanie is a museum curator so the type of activities she participates in are very different from the demands of her normal job.

"I've done work on beaches and got to help with beach clearances. I've also built scarecrows for the allotments, and built tepees for children who come to visit the site."

As well as helping in many conservation projects she has been able to take advantage of free sailing lessons and caving tours during some of these breaks.

For her, this side of the holiday is just one of the many benefits. She particularly enjoys working with like-minded people and making new friends.


There is quite a choice when it comes to these holidays - from farming to construction and even possibly working on an archaeological dig.

Many of the activities are targeted at adults but some of these holidays can cater for the whole family.

The Worldwide Opportunities on Organic Farms in the UK holds a list of organic farms, gardens and smallholdings.

Image copyright Thinkstock
Image caption Ever thought building a dry stone wall looked easy?

These "hosts" all offer food and accommodation in exchange for practical help on their land.

The website says that the hosts don't expect you to know a lot about farming on arrival, but they do expect you to be willing to learn and able to fit in with their lifestyle.


Possibly one of the key attractions to a working holiday is the cost. A more leisurely break in a National Trust cottage will start at around £220 but a working holiday could set you back as little as £135 for the week.

Many of the organisations that offer working holidays will require you to pay some level of contribution to the charity or buy a membership. However, you do not have to be a member of the National Trust to book a working holiday with them.

But Jasmine Birtles, the founder of, thinks there are things to look out for.

"A working holiday, a volunteer holiday is still something you've got to pay for," she says. "You've got the cost of the holiday itself, you've got insurance, you've got travel - getting there - and also extras because they are quite basic on the whole.

"The accommodation is likely to be basic. So if you like your creature comforts, you'll probably have to take them with you as well."

'Real work'

These breaks can be both rewarding and also extremely challenging. But for the organisations that you will be working for it will be vital.

Many of the groups rely on a volunteer network to carry out a vast number of tasks.

"The sorts of things we do in the countryside is a lot of habitat management," says Lawrence Trowbridge, a lead ranger for the National Trust at Ashridge Estate.

"So we're out in all weathers, carrying out tasks with hand tools, cutting scrub, grass management - all sorts of things that can then have an important contribution to the conservation work."

Much of the work carried out by volunteers is vital to the running of Ashridge Estate, he adds, as it is part of the organisation's "real work".

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