6 ISSUES FOR £6 Subscribe to Kent Life today CLICK HERE

Meet Kent shepherd Stuart Fletcher

PUBLISHED: 19:15 02 October 2015 | UPDATED: 19:15 02 October 2015

Sheep farmer Stuart Fletcher

Sheep farmer Stuart Fletcher

Manu Palomeque 07977074797

Meet the Kent man who has made an extraordinary life change from ships to sheep: the naval architect who became a shepherd

As Stuart Fletcher inspected the steel components of a luxury cruise ship being built in Trieste, he never dreamt that one day he would be rearing sheep in deepest Kent.

His career as a naval architect was on the up. He looked forward to promotion and a career for life. In the blazing heat of an Italian shipyard, Stuart monitored construction quality to ensure no repetition of a Titanic-style disaster.

On sea trials, he checked that the lifeboats would deploy, and monitored fire protection systems after filling the vessel’s corridors with smoke. It was a highly responsible job; every piece of cleared steel could be identified to him. His reputation was always on the line.

Stuart studied naval architecture and marine engineering at University College London. After joining Lloyds Register’s emergency response group at 22, he served on the frontline of safety at sea, part of a team investigating collisions and groundings. He recalls: “If the captain rang after an incident, we could model it, advise if it was time to abandon ship, or generally give him instructions on what to do.”

Stuart’s world was ship design, machinery, steelwork, anchors, leaking oil tanks, metal fatigue software. His skills took him to cruise ship, aircraft carrier, destroyer and drilling rig. He was so well regarded that the Royal Navy and UK shipyards asked him to join them.

But something was niggling at the back of his mind. He observed ships designed by others and believed he would have done better. “It was frustrating,” he says. He became fatigued by metal fatigue. “Ships bouncing on waves for 20 years can develop cracks. I was researching why they cracked in different shapes.”

Stuart and his wife Vicky moved to Wadhurst, partly because it was handy for Bewl Water where Stuart – a rowing champion – tests his skills. He commuted daily to London. Through the train window, he would watch flocks grazing in lush Kentish pasture.

It triggered thoughts, not initially of owning sheep but of seeking out local produce. “I went to the supermarket and all the lamb was from Wales or New Zealand. The local butcher only knew his lamb came from Smithfield.”

He bought at Tunbridge Wells’ Farmers’ Market but that happened only once a month.

After asking a local farmer for lamb for the family freezer he was told he “didn’t deal with people because it was too much hassle.”

This finally prompted Stuart to do it himself. He paid £70 apiece for four sheep – later discovering they were all female. Time to learn.

He attended a sheep husbandry course at Hadlow College, had a fortnight’s hands-on experience with a farmer, and read books, including one by BBC Countryfile’s Adam Henson.

As Stuart found more pasture, he bought more sheep. He now works with 23 landowners who let his sheep safely graze on rental, handshake or barter agreements. The closure of abattoirs in Lamberhurst and Charing forced Stuart to go to Heathfield. It was a busy time combining two roles. He went to his flock after a hard day’s work at the office, sometimes leaving early when a sheep strayed into the road.

He bought more lambs. He chose Lleyn, a rare breed until the 1980s. They are hardy creatures, with a good carcass, lean meat and excellent taste – and easier to shear than woolly Romneys. Ewes lamb in the open, with their new offspring quick to stand up and suck.

At just 32, Stuart reached his Rubicon, quitting naval architecture after 10 years, giving up a secure profession for the riskier life of an 
entrepreneurial meat producer.

He staked everything, notably the future of his wife and two young children, on Fletchers Fine Lleyn Flock. It’s tough getting into farming, 
especially without a relevant background. Stuart, now 35, sees sheep – he now has more than 300 - as a good entry point.

He is proving a good shepherd, a traditional name he prefers to “sheep farmer.” He has expanded into organic production, with 100 sheep in Lamberhurst, near Tunbridge Wells.

Striding among his flock, Stuart is clearly content. Seven-year old son Fred helps with lambing, staying with Dad in the caravan. In time, baby Arthur may share his brother’s enthusiasm.

Stuart’s pedigree collie Bess hails from the Romney Marsh breeder who supplied the ‘rogue’ sheep dog featured in the latest film of Hardy’s Far from the Madding Crowd.

Stuart’s lamb boxes are proving popular with individuals, restaurants, hotels and farm shops. With traceability now so important, he can tell you the provenance of every chop, leg, rack, shank and rolled shoulder joint. As the UK tries to reduce dependence on imported food, Stuart is doing his bit, and has joined Produced in Kent.

“Everyone said farming would be difficult financially and it is. I don’t get any EU subsidies. But I’m spending money in the local economy. You buy from a local farmer who spends it at the greengrocers or the pub and both survive.

“If you go to the supermarket and buy New Zealand lamb, half the money goes to New Zealand, the rest to supermarkets and 
shareholders everywhere.”

Stuart loves the environmental gain. His sheep eat grass and wild flowers, thus helping the regeneration of traditional meadows.

While he says some disparage him because he’s “not a farmer,” he shows them every day that he is. He is learning to shear. He aims to expand distribution of his lamb boxes, become more profitable, improve productivity and genetics.

“Morally, my naval architect job was good. It ensured safety at sea. But there’s something fundamental about putting food on someone’s table. It’s doing something that’s morally good.

“Maybe it was a bit risky, but at lambing I look at my son and think it’s not a risk at all. He’s not stuck in front of a computer, he’s 
outdoors feeding lambs. What better education is there than that?” Stuart the Shepherd has indeed voyaged far.

Get in touch

Fletchers Fine Lleyn Flock

07765 887 714 or stuart@fletchersflock.co.uk




More from People

Wherever you go in Kent you'll find people just like us pounding the streets, parks and waterways. So why are we all running?

Read more
May 2019

Nicola Leverington, aka the Wedding Dress Surgeon, on achieving the perfect fit and her new training courses

Read more
May 2019

Fine Art graduate Arianne Mills on having quite possibly the best job in Kent

Read more
April 2019
Monday, April 15, 2019

With Royal British Legion Industries celebrating its centenary this year, we look at how the Royal British Legion village in Aylesford supports veterans through employment

Read more
April 2019
Monday, April 8, 2019

Plastic pollution is spoiling our beautiful coastline and damaging wildlife, but we can all do our bit to help

Read more
March 2019
Monday, April 8, 2019

Are your pre-school children getting enough outdoor play? Kent Wildlife Trust's new Nature Tots course could be just the solution

Read more
March 2019

Meet our 2018 Junior Collector Cameron Jarvis, 11, whose passion is for all things turtle related

Read more
April 2019

The influence of Van Gogh's time teaching in Ramsgate is reflected in the art he produced as a professional painter, now on show at Tate Britain

Read more
April 2019

Chris Wiggins on how his childhood love of horses and the outdoors led to the career he loves

Read more
March 2019
Thursday, March 14, 2019

Jamie Cullum will be showcasing songs from his new album at the Cheltenham Jazz Festival - and it's going to be emotional

Read more

Newsletter Sign Up

Sign up to the following newsletters:

Sign up to receive our regular email newsletter

Our Privacy Policy

Topics of Interest

Food and Drink Directory
Kent Life Food & Drink awards. Open for entries.

Subscribe or buy a mag today

subscription ad

Follow us on Twitter

Like us on Facebook

Local Business Directory

Search For a Car In Your Area

Property Search

Most Read

Latest from the Kent Life