What the well-dressed urban sheep is tweeting

Photo source: The Guardian

Fatalist, sheep are. Necessetarian, even.

In fact, you can’t leave sheep unattended: they will end up believing they’re going to die.

Stupid? No. They can tweet. This is the 21st century, after all.

This morning  I listened to one of the first programmes of the day on our talk radio channel, Radio 4: Open Country.

Contrary to its name, it was not in the open country this week. It was in Brighton, where the most extraordinary experiment is going on with urban sheep.

Brighton and Hove City Council has realised that lawn mowers and their operators cost more than a flock of sheep, and the sheep keep the grass cropped far better, and with a pleasing shabby-chic style which delights those bohemian Brightonians. Their presence and indeed their poo encourages wildlife. Rare forms of butterflies are re-emerging, as the sheep make the environment perfect for their fellow globe-dwellers.

The sheep are Herdwicks, the well-hard breed which holds on by its teeth in the Lake District. Because Brighton’s urban sheep – all 600 of them – are not on prize land but those scrubby bits of pasture on the edge of, or between, housing estates. The grass is just too rough for those namby-pamby modern sheep, but these tough-nuts handle it admirably.

The hazards of being an urban sheep are different from those of their countrified contemporaries. Schoolboys love to chase them; vital fence panels disappear, encouraging an awayday on nearby housing estates.

But, as we have already ascertained, even the toughest sheep is fatalist. They believe that all events are predetermined by fate,and therefore unalterable.

And so Brighton Council employs volunteer shepherds to help the sheep to see the bright side of life. The word shepherd seem to be passé:  your smart urban sheep has lookerers.

Here’s Brighton Council’s take on the job.  You give an hour or more of your time and attend a one-day course, learning about sheep ailments and the sheep calendar; you make your mobile phone available so that sheepish intelligence can be passed from lookerer to lookerer; and you spend time with the herd, getting sheep out of scrapes.

Which is where the Radio 4 broadcast came in. This morning the presenter was talking to a real live lookerer. As I listened, presenter Helen Mark and lookerer Jane Hawkins had encountered a thorny problem: a whole clutch of sheep with their hairy Herdwick fleeces caught in brambles.

Helen observed solemnly that the sheep were stuck fast.

But as the two approached – with secateurs and gloves to free the animals – the sheep just freed themselves and ran off.

But hold on, the presenter said: weren’t they irrevocably trapped a moment ago?

“Ninety nine times out of one hundred, they’ll just pull themselves free like that,”  Jane told her, “but they won’t do it on their own. they’ll just stay there and give up. That’s why you have to looker.

“Sheep don’t seem to have a lot of will power, or inner strength, and if anything happens to them, they assume they’re going to die; and then they just stay there and they do die.

“But if you can, as lookerers, come up twice a day, at least they’re not there for very long.”

The movements of the sheep are tweeted so city dwellers can avoid the area when dog walking, or take extra care. Just take a look. Its stream is moreish. The latest tweet at time of posting read: “The sheep at Benfield have now moved. It was quite exciting running them across the golf course!”

Poor old sheep. I wonder if happiness comes easily to such fatalist creatures?

Perhaps that ancient partnership with man is symbiotic in the most extraordinary of ways: each helps the other with blue-sky thinking.

Featured image source here


42 thoughts on “What the well-dressed urban sheep is tweeting

  1. I had no idea sheep were so fatalistic, but from what I’ve seen, they do tend to get themselves in trouble a lot. In New Zealand, we saw one that had fallen into a mini ravine. It looked like it could not possibly get out and was bleating plaintively, and we were trying to find somebody to tell. But next time we looked, it had magically gotten out.
    Bravo for Brighton and the volunteer lookers. Perhaps they got the idea from Norway where they put goats on the grass-sod roofs of houses to keep the grass trimmed. No fences needed.

  2. We have Belted Galloway cows keeping down the rough grass on the escarpments. They have legs half the size of normal cows so can browse the slopes and they enjoy eating all the rough stuff other cows leave. This allows the Pasque flower and rare Juniper trees to flourish.

  3. So the sheepish young man approaching the young lady with romance in his heart already knows he will likely fail. Oh well, he can continue his life as a lookerer.

  4. My acquaintance with sheep is limited to my experience here in La Moussiere. There is a couple of them in the field next door. They are both very nice, enjoy croissants, behave very well and never, to my knowledge, get stuck in hedges. I’d quite like to be a lookerer, but I’d prefer to do it here rather than on an estate in Brighton.

  5. For some reason that lookerer term bypasses my sense of humour completely and goes straight for my distaste button, which it presses firmly. What on earth is wrong with being called a shepherd? The occupation has a very good press, biblically.
    I like the general idea of what they are doing, though.

    1. 😀 Col, I know exactly what you mean. They are volunteer shepherds, pure and simple. It does sound slightly less irritating with a Scottish accent such as this morning’s presenter’s. But you can run into some murky grammatical waters with lookerer if you’re not careful, as comments above will demonstrate…

      1. Indeed. The English get peculiarerer and peculiarerer!
        Funny, I live in Brighton but didn’t see the sheep. Perhaps because mine has Beach tagged on, and is in SA!

  6. Needy little naysayers, those wailing woolies. When I visited New Zealand, I learned about these animals tumbling onto their backs and dying without even attempting to roll over. On our island, the sheep farmers put their sheep out to pasture in the rough and tumble…I’ll have to ask how they tend them because I know of no shepherds or lookerers. I know they have some mighty fine border collies.

  7. Those sheep seem to have amotivational syndrome (maybe they have been eating the wrong type of weed 😉 ) – what a great idea getting the sheep to do the mowing – harrah for sheep (and Kate for telling us about it in such an entertaining manner – baaaaaa).

  8. Central Park has Sheep’s Meadow, but sheep have not grazed there since 1934 out of fear for their safety from hungry people during the depression. It would be fun to have the sheep back, but the meadow is very popular with sun bathers during the warm weather months so I doubt that we’ll follow Brighton’s lead. Are the Brighton sheep destined to eventually end their days as mutton? Possibly that is why sheep are so fatalistic — they sense their pending doom.

  9. Fatalist, Necessetarian sheep a funny take Kate. But the volunteer good shepherd’s perceptions of their charges is rather entertaining. Which leaves me wondering if some will become attached to the flock; might there be out cry from a few when it is time divvy up the lamb chops.

    I raised sheep for about ten years, not many mind you and for the most part it was a good experience. One night I got a very late phone call that dogs were in sheep. By the time I arrived on the scene all was quite. After a quick check, all but three lambs of my tiny flock had made it back to the barn. In the dark pasture I found them, neck deep in water clinging to the opposite creek bank which cut through the pasture. One by one, wading in waist high cold spring flood water, I floated three scared, water logged living sponges and in shock lambs back to the right side of life. Once on high ground, they would not move, they were in complete shock. I remembered a piece advice an old timer once mentioned. With a hand under their mouth pushing it’s head high an back, then with a hand on it’s rump, push them backwards a meter or so. Then suddenly just spasmed out of their trance-like induced coma, shaking the water out like a dog and went running full charge back to the rest. Fatalist perhaps, nervous Nellies most definitely.

  10. Oh, I would love to be a lookerer. What a fantastic initiative. Really good for urban kids too, to see animals amidst them. And good for the sheep too, to have so many people watching out for them.

  11. Other than a preference got the word Shepherd, I’m in. I’ve been telling Mark for ages that we need some sheep or goats for grass control. Now where’s the luxury line of Brighton Urban Wool yarns?

  12. This adds a whole new measure of insult to denigrating comments about “sheep-like” lack of personal will. Poor beasts! But it doesn’t appear they have any panic to them at all, which makes me really wonder what is going on inside their peaceful, or blank, minds? I want to be one of the lookers. I would just love that, and I think I could do that all day…not sure what that says about me! Ha!

  13. Poor sheep. Now I’m sad for them. I never thought they were the smartest creatures in the animal kingdom but I didn’t realize they lacked any survival instinct. I would be a looker for them.

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