A CAMPAIGN is under way to get more recognition for an emblematic but unsung Lake District figure - the humble Herdwick sheep.

Tourism officials are surveying over 400 hotels, restaurants, pubs, shops and chefs to get an insight into the Herdwick meat market.

One of the problems is that the dark ‘gamey’ meat is sold as a premium product in London, but hill farmers are not seeing proper returns..

And more needs could be done locally to get its tasty lamb, mutton, burgers and sausages onto menus and championing its uniqueness - both as a food, and a contributor to the look of the Lakes.

The native breed is famed for its hardiness and ability to graze over a wide area - including the highest and wettest of England’s mountains - all of which are in the Lake District, Cumbria.

Mary Houston is the Taste Cumbria manager for Cumbria Tourism.

She explained: “Herdwicks have this innate knowledge of where to go and where to graze in the Lake District, and even have their own mountains.

"If Herdwicks did not exist in the Lakes, the Lakes wouldn’t look the way it does. We need to convince people that this story is very important to the Lake District.”

The initiative is already discussing the creation of a unique mark of quality - a Herdwick emblem - to go on menus, packaging, carcasses and also in sales rings when it is sold at auction.

Also planned is better co-ordination of the local Herdwick meat industry - smoothing out the kinks in the supply chain that can exist between farmers, suppliers, buyers and consumers.

Ms Houston explained: “Its costing consumers a lot to eat but the price that breeders and what hill farmers receive is not relative to that at all.”

Helen Tate, research manager for Cumbria Tourism, added: “The aim of this survey is to assess how many businesses are currently using Herdwick meat on their menus, how much is understood about availability and seasonality, and whether there are any particular barriers to sourcing the product at the moment.

"Our ultimate goal is to encourage more food service operators in our county to support Herdwick farming, through the sourcing, service and marketing of Herdwick meat.”

Herdwick farmers, on average, earn just £5,000 per year - despite performing the difficult job in challenging conditions.

The Herdwick Sheep Breeders Association formed in 1916 is supporting the campaign.

The survey can be completed at http://bit.ly/1hb6Hur or for more information contact mhouston@cumbriatourism.org