Sheep have been let loose to graze on London’s Hampstead Heath for the first time since the 1950s in a bid to keep vegetation in check in an environmentally-friendly way.
The five animals – supplied by the inner city Mudchute Park & Farm and made up of Oxford Down and Norfolk Horn breeds – have been set to work in a fenced-off area known as the Tumulus – the last resting place of Queen Boadicea, according to unconfirmed local legend.
The project is being run by the Rare Breeds Survival Trust and the City of London Corporation, which owns the heath, with volunteers from the Heath and Hampstead Society and the charity Heath Hands.
Bob Warnock, the superintendent for Hampstead Heath, said sheep can play a major role in boosting species-rich wildlife habitats as well as replacing noisy and polluting machinery.
He said: “Sheep are ideal as they nibble away at encroaching brambles and shrubs that are starting to invade this area.”
John Beyer, of the Heath and Hampstead Society, said: “This idea came up at a society lecture given by painter Lindy Guinness, who showed paintings by John Constable of cattle grazing on the heath.
“This romantic vision happily coincided with the aim of heath staff to experiment with grazing rather than tractors to manage the landscape. ”
The project is not the first of its kind in a green space in the capital.
Two years ago, six sheep were brought into London’s Green Park to help tame dominant plants.