The ancient parish church of Brighton, St Nicholas, is dedicated to St Nicholas, the Bishop of Myra, patron saint of fishermen and sailors, children, pawnbrokers and Russia. A church with this dedication has been the centre of Christian worship in Brighton for the past nine hundred years and on Friday 24 September, for the first time in almost two hundred years, there were sheep grazing in St Nicholas churchyard.
Under the guidance of Brighton & Hove’s Park Ranger, Dominic Franklin, the sheep grazed the blessed grass of central Brighton. Children from St Paul’s School came along to see and pat the sheep. Dominic explained that not so long ago, there would have been grassland right outside the walls of the church, and that sheep would have been grazing in the centre of Brighton. Indeed, according to an ancient by-law the Vicar of Brighton has the right to rear a flock of sheep in the churchyard.
The sheep were only at St Nicholas for a day but they were there to bring attention to B&H’s grazing initiative. Chalk grassland is the result of centuries of sheep grazing which has kept the grass short so that wild flowers and insects can thrive, but much of the chalk grassland has disappeared under arable fields over the last century. What remains has been slowly deteriorating. Without grazing coarser species like brambles and hawthorn dominate at the expense of the smaller wildflowers and the insects that depend on them. Brighton & Hove Council has introduced grazing onto the ancient sheep pastures of the surrounding Wild Park to try and maintain the diversity of wild flowers and insects, such as the Adonis Blue butterfy, Rounded Headed Rampion, Early Spider Orchid, Burnet Moths and Salad Burnet.
The Council is still looking for people to help look after the sheep that look after the downland. As most of the downland sites are on the edge of the city more regular checks need to be made on the sheep, so volunteer shepherds, or lookerers, are needed to help.
Lookerers need to be able to:
- get around on quite steep uneven slopes, as that is where the sheep graze
- be available in the winter months – the sheep normally graze the sites in the winter so that they do not eat the flowers!
- spare around one hour a week while the sheep are on site
- have a mobile phone so that they can receive any updates on the sheep, phone in reports and contact the Council in case of emergency
- attend lookering training
- commit to checking the sheep and making a scheduled report as agreed or make sure another lookerer will
The training is free and consists of a one day course at Stanmer covering:
- Conservation grazing – why graze
- The shepherd’s year – what happens when
- Common sheep ailments – what might happen
- Sheep and the law
- How to handle a sheep, though lookerers don’t have to do this
- Installing and maintaining electric sheep netting. Part of the daily check will be to make sure the fence is fine
Once lookerers are trained they will be asked when they are available for the period when the sheep are on site. They are then allocated times on a rota when they are responsible for checking the sheep. A check should not take more than an hour and does not have to be at an exact time, usually morning or afternoon is specified.
If you would help by becoming a lookerer please fill in the application form on the Brighon & Hove website. Please note the Council is targeting sites where there are less lookerers so won’t necessarily allocate places on a first come first served basis if the course is oversubscribed.