The new gardeners look a bit sheepish

Shetland sheep graze on top of Ha' Hill in Carlisle Park, Morpeth.
Shetland sheep graze on top of Ha' Hill in Carlisle Park, Morpeth.

A CRACK team of grass cutters has now joined the gardeners at an award-winning park.

A small flock of Shetland sheep arrived at Carlisle Park in Morpeth yesterday.

As reported in the Herald earlier this month, the animals will graze on the historic Ha’ Hill, an 11th Century motte and bailey, to help keep the grass and shrubs in order.

In recent years Northumberland County Council park staff have struggled to maintain the area with normal grass cutters due to its steep slope so now they have adopted a more traditional approach.

Grazing animals were used at Ha’ Hill and other areas of the park in the past and photographs from the 1930s show sheep grazing behind the herbaceous borders and cattle on the north side of the hill, which is now managed as a wildflower meadow.

The sheep will contribute to Morpeth’s Northumbria and Britain In Bloom entries as a sustainable grassland management feature.

The aim is to bring the area back to a more species-rich grassland, with the sheep controlling the brambles, rosebay willowherb and raspberry that are growing there at present. They will also stop the growth of more shrubby species and trees, which would disguise the motte from being seen as the grassy mound it was intended to be.

Park staff have been trained to care for the flock, which has been provided by Flexigraze through a Growing Wild project, funded by the SITA Trust.

Flexigraze worker Stephen Comber will provide additional care support.

County Council Head of Highways and Neighbourhood Services Andy Rutherford said: “This is part of the Growing Wild project, which looks at how grassy areas can be maintained to provide greater diversity of plant species.

“Bringing the sheep to the park is restoring a traditional and sustainable land management technique from earlier days in history when livestock was grazing around the area.

“As well as boosting the biodiversity of the park and reducing consumption of fossil fuels through removing the need to use petrol powered strimmers to cut the hill, the scheme will contribute towards Carlisle Park’s Green Flag Award application and Morpeth’s bid for Britain In Bloom.

“It has been particularly time consuming and difficult for the park gardeners when they had to tackle the vegetation on the hill and I am sure the sheep will be a crowd pleaser.”

A fence has been erected around Ha’ Hill to keep the sheep in a safe area and prevent them from wandering around the park, munching on other plants and flowers.

The area is still accessible to the public and people are encouraged to go to see the sheep, however they are asked not to disturb them.

Mr Rutherford said: “There is still public access on the top of Ha’ Hill through a kissing gate at the steps on the western side of the motte, however we do ask that all dogs are kept under control in and around the area, as is required of them throughout the park.”