WATCH: Sheep return to grazing on Hampstead Heath
Animals replace tractors in managing historic landscape
29 August, 2019 — By Dan Carrier
THE return of sheep to Hampstead Heath is both “romantic and practical” according to the civic group behind a new scheme to introduce grazing to the common land.
The Heath and Hampstead Society’s John Beyer – who chairs the groups Heath Committee – told the New Journal that a herd of five sheep that have been brought on to the Heath to graze this week not only hark back to years gone by but could be key to increasing biodiversity.
Mr Beyer, who has helped organise with heath managers the City of London the week-long project, said: “This romantic vision happily coincided with the aim of Heath staff to experiment with grazing rather than tractors to manage the landscape. ”
He added that the area the mix of Norfolk Longhorn and Oxford Down breeds were grazing in – known locally as Boudicca’s Mound due to the urban myth that the chief of the Iceni tribe fought Romans there – would otherwise have to have grasses and undergrowth managed by Heath Rangers.
He said: “This is a Bronze Age site that could go back to 1,000bc. We want to keep it in good nick. You could do it with tools – but which would you rather see as you walk across here, strimmers or sheep?”
Sheep trials were hosted on the southern slopes of Parliament Hill in 2017 as part of the TV show One Man And His Dog – but otherwise the animals had not been seen on the common land since the early 1950s. Last year, shire horses visited the Heath in a successful pilot scheme to help the ground recover after a national cross country event.
Karina Dostalova, who chairs the Heath’s management committee, said: “The Heath has a long history of sheep grazing with farmers taking their flock to the site before taking them to market in the City. Grazing could play a key role in creating new rich and diverse habitats for the wildlife found on the Heath. Reintroduction of grazing has been an aspiration for many years.”
Mr Beyer told the New Journal the idea had come from a talk by artist Lindy Guiness at the annual Society-sponsored Springett Lecture at Burgh House.
He said: “She spoke about John Constable’s paintings of the Heath – and how some had cattle in them. We asked the 80-strong audience at the end if they would like to see animals graze once more – and the idea blossomed from there.”
The sheep have come from Mudchute Farm in the Isle of Dogs and the fenced off tumulus site which is their current home includes a group of Scots Pines, planted as “wayfarer markers” – evergreen trees placed on routes used by herdsmen to drive sheep and cattle into London from the surrounding counties.
If the trial is successful, the City of London and the Heath and Hampstead Society hope to continue the project in other areas of the land that would benefit from occasional grazing.