Managing the landscape with rare breed sheep

Sustainability: Ecology & Environment

Spring has arrived at Prologis RFI DIRFT and the lambing season is underway. Earlier this year, the Wildlife Trust for Bedfordshire, Cambridgeshire and Northamptonshire brought a flock of rare breed sheep to Lilbourne Meadows, the 193 acre nature reserve we are creating as part of the DIRFT site. Now, under the WTBCN’s expert eye, the flock is settling into its new home and our first lambs have been born.

Nature’s Lawnmower
The WTBCN, which is managing Lilbourne Meadows, is using rare breed sheep for conservation grazing across the site’s extensive pasture land to protect its biodiversity. Grazing animals have been used for hundreds of years to shape semi-natural habitats and specific breeds - depending on feeding preference and behaviour - are suited to particular landscapes. Sheep prefer shorter grass and traditional breeds, with an instinct for browsing, are useful for scrub control. So, rare breed sheep are a perfect match for Lilbourne Meadows and the WTBCN has a plan to manage the habitat for the wellbeing of the sheep and the benefit of the local wildlife.

Gathering the Flock
The flock at Lilbourne Meadows is made up of breeding ewes from the Wildlife Trust’s other reserves and is mainly Hebridean and Manx Loughtan, but it also includes Herdwick, Rough Fell, Shetland and Hebridean Mules – a cross that looks like a commercial sheep. Just before Christmas, the WTBCN assembled the ewes at its Barford Wood & Meadows Nature Reserve near Kettering. Here, the WTBCN scanned the ewes to find out how many lambs each was carrying so that they could plan for lambing when the sheep arrived at their new home.

In the meantime, we had completed a multi-purpose livestock building at the edge of Lilbourne Meadows, which the WTBCN is currently using as a lambing shed for the ewes expecting twins and triplets, because they might need some help.

Looking Ahead
As the lambs grow older, some of the ewe lambs will stay at Lilbourne Meadows to increase the flock, while others will be moved to other Wildlife Trust nature reserves. The best males will be kept for breeding or sold as pedigree animals. Then when the main grazing season is over, the remaining males and ewe lambs will be sold to other conservation charities or through rare breed sales.

For Prologis, these rare breed sheep are our first experience of animal husbandry and we have had to learn some of the basics from scratch. But it is reassuring to know that the WTBCN is managing the flock and that they have the knowledge and the practical expertise to make sure that both the sheep and the wildlife habitat are maintained to the highest standards.
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Lilbourne Meadows has been designed as a living landscape and it is exciting to see it come to life.