After a colder than usual spring, it has taken a while for the grass to get growing but now the time has come for a magnificent conservation tool to be deployed once again onto some of Sutton’s beautiful flower rich Wellfield chalk grasslands: sheep!
The Wellfield Grasslands in Carshalton Beeches is a collection of small chalk grassland sites which offers a glimpse of the open pasture of this area a 100 years ago where sheep grazing would have been widespread. Sheep have grazed Wellfield East and West in Wellfield Gardens for over ten years but have never grazed ‘Wellfield South’. As part of the Biodiversity Team’s new management of this site, sheep will be grazing Wellfield South for a few weeks during June, to help the scarce wildflowers and insects. Wellfield South is also proposed within the Local Plan to be protected for nature conservation, so ensuring the site is in peak condition helps in ensuring Sutton fulfills its Biodiversity Action Plan targets.
The chalk soil underlying these grasslands plays a key role in creating conditions where a rich diversity of wildlife can flourish. More species of plant can be found in a square metre of chalk grassland than any other habitat, which in turn play host to numerous species of invertebrates, including scarce butterflies, spiders and beetles.
Grazing by sheep helps to reduce the dominance of less desirable coarser grasses, giving the more delicate flowers greater space to grow, such as the aromatic wild marjoram and kidney vetch with its clusters of small yellow flowers sitting atop little woolly cushions.
Whilst the sheep are hardy for their outdoor lifestyle, they still need a little daily support to check they are healthy and content. Most of this ‘lookering’, as it is known, is undertaken by staff and volunteers from the Downlands Partnership (who own the sheep) and the London Borough of Sutton Biodiversity Team.
Alex Draper, Sutton Biodiversity Project Office says “The sheep benefit from visits to check they are safe, have sufficient water and are not showing signs of distress. We would welcome anyone interested in volunteering to help keep an eye on the sheep.”
Beverley Nutbeam, a local resident and volunteer sheep carer says ‘It’s a great privilege to help look after the sheep on our doorstep. Grazing is by far the best way to manage these delightful chalk grasslands, and is in keeping with how they developed over hundreds of years in the first place!’
If you are interested in volunteering to help care for the sheep, contact Sutton Biodiversity Team. Ideally, you’ll live relatively close to Wellfield Gardens and you’ll be able to spare about 15 minutes, either in the morning or afternoon / evening, to check the sheep on a rota basis.
Contact Alex. Email firstname.lastname@example.org or call 020 8770 4197