A number of important conservation and ancient chalk downland areas in the city are grazed with sheep to improve the open space for both wildlife and people. Grazing is better than mowing for the land as the grass is removed over several weeks allowing insects to move away and ensure structures like ant hills are not damaged. Sheep also find some plants tastier than others, so grazing removes different plants at different rates, unlike mowing where everything is removed at once. Grazing also ensures aggressive weeds such as nettles and brambles don't take over and prevent people from using open spaces for quiet recreation, healthy exercise and enjoying wildlife.
The sheep grazing in and around the city need checking regularly than sheep further out in the countryside. If you would like to help, you can volunteer as a Lookerer (volunteer shepherd) to support our important grazing programme.
Up-to-date Sheep information
You can now follow @BHSheep on Twitter for up-to-date information on where the sheep are.
See where the sheep are grazing
You can now see where they are on the sheep grazing map.
How it started
Downland, or chalk grassland, has developed over many centuries of sheep grazing on the chalk hills of southern England, particularly around Brighton & Hove. The corn was grown in the valleys on the more fertile soils and the sheep grazed on the hills where the soils were thinner and less fertile.
The sheep were brought down from the hills each evening by the shepherd and their dung manured the field allowing it to be cropped again the following year. This meant that the fertility of the hill soils was kept low by the continual transfer of sheep and the downs became rich in a very special diversity of wildflowers and insects such as butterflies.
Over the last century agriculture has become industrialised and, with the introduction of artificial fertilisers, no longer dependent on sheep grazing. This has seen 97% of the flower rich downland grassland disappear in the last century. The remaining 3% is under threat from spreading scrub (for example nettles).
In order to reverse this decline the council has reintroduced grazing as part of our work to expand and conserve chalk grassland in and around the city.
Conservation mowing is carried out as a temporary measure to prevent scrub from becoming established on important chalk grassland sites currently not suitable for grazing. Mowing is not the best management for conservation areas as it is relatively destructive to wildlife and it is expensive to collect and compost the cuttings.