Sheep grazed freely on the rolling grasslands of Hampstead Heath for the first time in decades. On 27 August a small flock of five Oxford Down and Norfolk Horn sheep were released on to the North London park for a week-long trial.
Their grazing could prove an eco-friendly way of looking after the centuries-old Heath, according to the City of London Corporation, which runs it.
“Grazing is known to play a major role in boosting species-rich wildlife habitats and reducing the use of machinery,” a Corporation spokesperson said.
“Unlike mowing, grazing produces a mosaic of vegetation heights and types, improving ecological sites for species, including amphibians, small mammals, invertebrates and wildflowers.”
It follows months of speculation about livestock being brought back to the much-loved, 790-acre Heath for the first time since the 1950s. In March, The Times newspaper reported that cows were also being considered.
The sheep were provided by Mudchute Park and Farm on the Isle of Dogs, East London. They grazed at The Tumulus, a Roman monument over an ancient burial ground close to Parliament Hill that is managed by Historic England.
Volunteers from the Heath and Hampstead Society and Heath Hands supported the project by monitoring the sheep and engaging with visitors.
John Beyer, vice chair of the Heath and Hampstead Society, said the idea was inspired by early 19th-century landscape paintings by John Constable.
“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.” said Mr Beyer.
“This romantic vision happily coincided with the aim of Heath staff to experiment with grazing rather than tractors to manage the landscape. We are delighted to work with the City Corporation to find more sustainable ways of preserving the Heath.”
Karina Dostalova, chairman of the Corporation’s Hampstead Heath 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.
“Reintroduction of grazing has been an aspiration for many years, and we are glad to be working with our partners on this exciting opportunity.”
The pilot was managed by the City of London Corporation in partnership with the Heath & Hampstead Society, Heath Hands, Historic England, Mudchute Park & Farm and Rare Breeds Survival Trust.