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  • Writer's pictureLizzie Hessek

Sheep in the City

I saw this on a French urban planning blog I like to read, and I felt compelled to translate it and share with you all. I loved it first because of the subject - can we please get sheep to tend to Fairmount Park? Look how adorable they are! I loved it second because of the last sentence in the next-to-last paragraph. I'm not sure why sheep in the city is enabling new connections among individuals, but I am super into it. Maybe it's because you now have something to say to that neighbor you had nothing to say to before: Why is there a sheep out front of our building? Here it is:

Photo Guillaume Leterrier

Sheep in the City

Author : Edouard Malsch

From the countryside to the suburbs to the center of the city, urban shepherding techniques are making a comeback. Whether it is economically benefiting private companies, municipalities, or individuals, managing open spaces with herds of goats, sheep, horses, and other beasts certainly seems to be catching on.

If the term “urban shepherding” evokes an ancient agricultural practice based on raising livestock across large swaths of land, its “contemporary and urban evolution” manifests itself first and foremost as a solution for maintaining green areas. It is a sustainable solution that helps preserve an area’s biodiversity.

Urban shepherding is a type of maintenance that differs from the common practice of applying the same treatment to all urban open spaces regardless of their ecological needs. It has been proven, for example, that systematically mowing all grassy areas not only results in an uninspiring lawn, it also harms biodiversity and only allows certain invasive species to develop in our urban landscape. It is in the framework of searching for an alternative to the dull and unhealthy urban lawn that our friends the sheep are making their triumphant return to the city! Specifically, small herds of rustic animals – chosen for their resilience and their quick adaptation to different types of terrain – were gathered to graze in the place of lawnmowers and weed whackers.

This is what a sheep-mowed field looks like

It’s a welcome return with multiple benefits. Besides tending to the grass, the sheep make the soil more fertile. Without systematically destroying all flora, insects and small animals will be able to reestablish their presence in the landscape. The environmental impact is also lessened: sheep produce less pollution than lawn mowers and require no pesticides to complete their task. There are a few negatives to the sheep intervention, however. The cost of purchasing, transporting, and caring for the sheep is potentially higher than purchasing and maintaining machines. Maintenance times must also be taken into consideration as the sheep are not yet as efficient as the lawnmowers.

Despite these costs, urban shepherding seems to present a credible alternative for public and private land owners who no longer have the means to maintain vast parcels or who must manage land that is difficult to maintain with traditional tools (for example, historic monuments such as ramparts, citadels, moats, and castles)

For about a decade, numerous French cities have used grazers to maintain part of their open space. Lyon, Lille, Calais, and Rennes have sheep, lambs, and goats mowing and weeding lawns, prairies, and forgotten urban areas. The 67 ewes of the cooperative Les Bergers Urbains (the urban shepherds) in Seine-Saint-Denis have significantly increased the number of animals involved in the practice. For two years the city of Grenoble has abandoned its lawnmowers for a herd of sheep that maintain the grassy slopes of the Bastille fortress.

Photo:  Lou Photography

As we strive to put nature back into the heart of the city, the arrival of these animals is also a tool to make city-dwellers aware of their natural environment. The sheep are a source of well-being for urban residents that enable new connections among individuals.

What do you think about the sheep invasion in the city?


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