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Hampstead Heath sheep: Flock to graze London park

Oxford Down sheep Image copyright Rare Breed Survival Trust
Image caption Oxford Down sheep are to graze on Hampstead Heath as an eco-friendly way of maintaining it

Sheep are to graze on Hampstead Heath for the first time in 60 years.

On Tuesday, a small flock of five Oxford Down and Norfolk Horn sheep will be released on to the North London park for a week-long trial.

It is hoped the grazing could prove an eco-friendly way of maintaining the centuries-old heath.

City of London Corporation, which runs the park, said: "Grazing is known to play a major role in boosting species-rich wildlife habitats."

It said: "Unlike mowing, grazing produces a mosaic of vegetation heights and types, improving ecological sites for species including amphibians, small mammals, invertebrates and wildflowers."

The development follows months of speculation about livestock being brought back to the 790-acre Hampstead Heath for the first time since the 1950s.

Image copyright City of London Corporation
Image caption Sheep used to graze on Hampstead Heath before being taken to market in the City

The sheep will be provided by Mudchute Park and Farm on the Isle of Dogs, east London, according to the Local Democracy Reporting Service.

They will graze at The Tumulus, a Roman monument over an ancient burial ground close to Parliament Hill, which is managed by Historic England.

Fencing has been installed around the area to protect the sheep, which will be kept at the heath's nearby Kenwood Yard overnight.

Volunteers from the Heath and Hampstead Society, and Heath Hands will support the project by monitoring the sheep and "engaging with visitors".

If successful, the pilot could be expanded to other areas of the heath, the Corporation said.

The park, situated just 6km (3.7 miles) from Trafalgar Square, is one of London's most popular open spaces, receiving nine million visitors per year.

Image copyright Getty Images
Image caption The scheme was inspired by the paintings of John Constable which show cattle grazing on the Heath

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 romantic vision happily coincided with the aim of heath staff to experiment with grazing rather than tractors to manage the landscape," Mr Beyer said.

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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."

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