Sheep would have once been a familiar sight in London parks and back in the 1920s and 1930s they were a cheap way of keeping the grass down. One shepherd called George Donald even brought his flock (and his dog) all the way down from Aberdeen to graze Hyde Park, Clapham Common and Hampstead Heath during the spring and summer.
The matter of Mr Donald’s grazing was being discussed in Parliament when Conservative politician Sir Harry Brittain asked in March 1920 “Were not any English sheep available?”
However, it was found that under the conditions of the contract it was not possible to specify the place from where the sheep or shepherds come. Clearly the plot was a good one and the industrious Scot was allowed to continue his annual pilgrimage. This picture shows quite how many woolly inhabitants made the park home…
Not only was this agreement good for Anglo-Scottish relations but it was good for wildlife too. Sheep are great at maintaining a variety of plant species and preventing course grasses taking over. They eat away tough, dominant plants that risk eventually overrunning meadows and also trample in seeds that have dropped from the flowers. In that respect, they’re much more sophisticated than lawnmowers.
New York’s Central Park had around 200 pedigree Southdown sheep grazing it for 70 years until 1934. London’s sheep were removed from the city in the 1950s but since 2010 they seem to be making a – somewhat modest – comeback with one flock initially introduced into Hampstead Heath. In August last year another flock of wholly visitors grazed the meadows in Green Park. The scheme was part of The Royal Parks Mission: Invertebrate project which received £600,000 of funding to support London’s grassland creatures.
Oxford Downs, Whitefaced Woodlands and Manx Loaghtan rare breeds were all included in the project. Unlike modern commercial breeds which require supplementary foods, these hardy rare breeds have evolved to live exclusively on plants and grasses. I’m waiting for them to make a re-appearance this summer.