Lamb-stead Heath: are ewe ready for the flock?
DOG walkers, kite fliers and picnickers have all made Hampstead Heath their home over the years – but could woolly farm animals join them in the future?
The sight of the grazing sheep munching the Heath’s acres of grass disappeared in 1956 but their return has been welcomed this week by Michael Welbank, chairman of Hampstead Heath’s management committee.
Bringing sheep back to the Heath is one of the Corporation of London’s ‘aspirational goals’ included in their strategic management plan and Mr Welbank believes their place on the Heath should not be confined to a baa-gone era.
“You could not have a better grass mowing machine than grazing sheep,” he said. “They would act as a management tool for the land. There is a lot going for it. When the animals stop grazing on the land then you have to do everything yourself, like cutting the grass. Visually it is also very much in tune with the organic way the area is used.”
Mr Welbank admits it may take some time to debate all of the issues before sheep come flocking back on the Heath but managing farm animals is not not alien to the Corporation of London bosses.
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Ribblesdown Common in Croydon and Burnham Beeches in South Buckinghamshire both owned by the Corporation of London are already home to sheep and cattle.
He said: “You can keep sheep in an area inside electric fencing, you would need a stockman and then we would need to work out how to deal with the dogs. Dogs will soon learn if they put their nose up against an electric fence. It won’t kill them of course. We would probably have to lock the sheep in at night. There are all sorts of things to consider but it’s something we have an aspiration to do and we will get round to it.”
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At a time when Heath bosses are desperately trying to deal with the amount of dog faeces on the land the prospect of bringing a flock of sheep onto the open space, which is visited by thousands each week, might appear strange to some.
But Mr Welbank said the herbivores must not be judged in the same bracket as their carnivorous canine friends.
He said: “Sheep droppings are ok. They are not offensive at all compared to the faeces of high protein animals. It is of a completely different character.”
The notion of sheep on the Heath is supported by one of Hampstead’s most famous nature lovers Bill Oddie, though the broadcaster did have a few words of warning.
Mr Oddie said: “I would love to see it. It would be like something out of a time warp. it’s not a million years ago that the heath would have been farmland. But whether or not it is a safe thing to do from the sheep’s point of view, I don’t know. I would love to think people who will visit Hampstead Heath never include those who just fancy a leg of mutton but I am afraid that might not be the case. So I would be concerned about the safety issue.”
But the Corporation of London might not be able to count on the backing of Anna Farlow from the Friends of Hampstead Heath group. She said: “I thought they were worried about faeces on the Heath. I just think it will cause all sorts of complications.”