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Sheep accused of damaging Offa's Dyke. Source: whitcomberd / Adobe Stock.

My Sheep Did it! Farmer Blames His Damage of Ancient Earthwork Offa’s Dyke on His Livestock


Those readers who have watched the wonderful British animated series about the Welsh farmyard figure, Shaun the Sheep, will know just how mischievous these wooly Welsh creatures can be. But in real life, a Welsh farmer has taken to the dock in court blaming his willful destruction of an ancient archaeological site “on his sheep”. Yup, he really did folks…

Offa’s Dyke - Ancient Welsh Monument

Offa’s Dyke is a massive linear earthwork loosely following the current border between England and Wales, named after the 8th century Anglo-Saxon king of Mercia who is credited with its construction. Measuring up to 65 feet (20 meters) wide and 8 feet (2.4 meters) high the earthwork stretches an immense 150 miles (241 kilometers) and is a protected monument; but not protected enough it seems… from sheep!

Offa's Dyke, Llanfair Hill, Powys. (GeographBot / CC BY-SA 2.0)

Offa's Dyke, Llanfair Hill, Powys. (GeographBot / CC BY-SA 2.0)

In January 2018, Mold Crown Court in Wales heard that a member of the public reported damage to Offa’s Dyke consisting of a seven-meter-wide gap in the path. It turns out to have been caused by Richard Pugh, a 35 year old farmer, who took it upon himself to excavate a 23 foot (7 meter) deep hole in this world-famous Welsh monument and his excuse in court was that his sheep were responsible for the damage.

According to a report in The Telegraph Judge Rhys Rowlands of Mold Crown Court was no fool and said Pugh’s reasoning was “unbelievably ridiculous”.

My Homework Was Eaten By The Dog

Brazenly, Pugh finally admitted that he had “removed a hedge and a fence” so he could more easily cross his land. But rather than pleading that 'economic hardship’ had inspired his act of blatant vandalism against British heritage, he said his “sheep caused most of the damage”.

It was only upon realizing that his somewhat shallow lie was not working in court that he admitted his farming machinery had ‘contributed’ to it. In Pugh's weird world, when someone gets shot, did the murderer only contribute to the acts of the gun and bullet?

It’s just bizarre to think that a grown man would even attempt the old “sheep did it” side step and keep a straight face in a court room full of other adults. The judge made it very clear, “Offa’s Dyke is a well-known ancient monument. It has been there since the Dark Ages and there is very strong public interest in ensuring its survival in its present form”.

The judge did not accept that the sheep damaged Offa's Dyke and passed sentence on Pugh. (Anneke / Adobe Stock)

The judge did not accept that the sheep damaged Offa's Dyke and passed sentence on Pugh. (Anneke / Adobe Stock)

And when drawing his conclusions, before passing sentence, he added “it is hard to believe Pugh was not aware of the dyke’s historical and tourism value and his actions meant that a significant archaeological site may have been lost”.

The farmer finally buckled and pleaded “guilty” to willfully damaging an ancient monument and according to a BBC article Pugh was fined "£1,500 ($1,882) with £500 ($627) costs and a £150 ($188) surcharge”.

Where Do These Types Of Excuses Come From?

I think it’s pretty clear that what happened here is that a hard working farmer who generally is ‘not’ a vandal with a hatred for British culture, just parked his tractor one day and broke down. He might have got a text saying “dinner’s ready in the farmhouse” which meant a three mile overland drive to access the first field gate, then, maybe a couple more miles to the pie.

With that conceptual Shepard’s Pie wafting across the Welsh landscape, I think Pugh just put his foot to the floor and drove right over that ‘damn wall’ looking only ahead, and certainly not into prehistory, towards that savory promise. And it’s doubtless that his “sheep did it” excuse came from the mind of a man of the hill.

Was Offa's Dyke damaged so the farmer could have Shepherd's Pie? (Dennis Wilkinson / CC BY-SA 2.0)

Was Offa's Dyke damaged so the farmer could have Shepherd's Pie? (Dennis Wilkinson / CC BY-SA 2.0)

No. I would suggest that to find the architect of this not so brilliant excuse, one would maybe look towards Matthew Curtis, Pugh’s lawyer who said his client “had spent around £2,000 ($2,509) trying to repair the dyke” and that the tractor “contributed” to the damage.

Stirringly, what we have here are ‘two new types’ of archaeological criminal. Gone are the days when historical damage lay solely at the hands of gangs of feral youths spray painting standing stones, for if we were to believe this qualified British lawyer; ‘sheep’ and ‘tractors’ have upped their game, and in this case, together, they ruthlessly tore apart an important part of the ancient British landscape.

Top image: Sheep accused of damaging Offa's Dyke. Source: whitcomberd / Adobe Stock.

By Ashley Cowie



Cousin_Jack's picture

Don’t need excuses here, scheduled monument, a wayside cross, got interferred with. The Cornish hedge it was in got removed, the cross got moved but left, and English Heritage looks as though its doing nothing. Then English heritage does enjoy drilling holes into standing stones so wire can be passed through to protect the stones from people, so what do we expect...

In Anglia et Cornubia.

ashley cowie's picture


Ashley is a Scottish historian, author, and documentary filmmaker presenting original perspectives on historical problems in accessible and exciting ways.

He was raised in Wick, a small fishing village in the county of Caithness on the north east coast of... Read More

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