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Eco-grazing in Paris

Or éco-pâturage à Paris, in the more elegant French description.

eco pasture3I really want this to work. As a pilot scheme, the Paris parks department has installed four sheep in the grounds of its city archives in the 19th arrondissement.

As the sign shown here explains, they are to provide a more ecological way of maintaining the lawns, munching though the grass, and thus ending the need for fossil-fuel-driven mowers and chemical weedkillers. The result should be an environment richer in flora and fauna, all naturally fertilised, providing a reminder of nature and a wildlife corridor in the middle of the city.

Provided with water, shelter and an unobtrusive electric fence (solar-powered of course) to keep them safe, the tough little sheep have been chosen because the breed offers no value to the meat or dairy farmer, and was otherwise at risk of dying out.

It is a scheme that has received a good deal of positive media coverage. As our American friends might say, what’s not to like?

Except, sadly, on my visit to the archives last month, it looked as if the experiment was not working. Although they appeared to be munching as required, the sheep were almost hidden by grass that must have been a metre high. They were rather disconsolately gathered in one corner near the building, and gave me the impression that it was just all too much for them. The only short grass was a small strip on the public side of the electric fence, which was presumably being mown in a less environmentally-friendly way.

eco pasture1eco pasture2

No doubt the city took advice on how many sheep would be needed for an area this size. And maybe there is a required pattern of feast and famine, and I witnessed the very start of a period of feasting. So I am still hoping we may yet see more tough little brown sheep nibbling their way across the green spaces of Paris. It just seems not to be as straightforward as you might hope.

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8 comments on “Eco-grazing in Paris

  1. Mrs K
    August 5, 2013

    Reblogged this on Friends of Heaton Moor Park and commented:
    It appears that the suggestion made by Stockport’s Director of Public Health to use grazing animals as an alternative to lawn mowers was not as outrageous or risible as some thought.

  2. sueturner31
    August 5, 2013

    hope it works….seems like a very sensible project….

  3. Heroica
    August 5, 2013

    It is the fact that tHe grass has become too coarse , in the summer months sheep need a richer shorter grass to fed up on for the winter, they will not eat long coarse grass, there must be a million farmers in France who could tell Paris this!

  4. diversifolius
    August 6, 2013

    It is an admirable initiative, but I think Heroica is right – sheeps won’t eat any type of grass at any time; maybe goats would be more useful…

  5. bluenosegardener
    August 7, 2013

    I’m enjoying the aesthetic of the sheep in the grounds, even if they aren’t accomplishing what it was hoped they would accomplish; maybe there is some research out there along the lines of Joan Iverson Nassauer’s, that could speak to how apparently “direlict” or waste spaces are made more pleasing once you stick a couple animals there? If we can “measure” the aesthetic effect, we can tell the bureaucrats it is still serving a purpose. ;)

  6. landscapelover
    August 7, 2013

    Thanks for the comments. It does seem unlikely, even to my non-expert eyes, that these little sheep will now somehow scythe their way through all that long grass. As Heroica says, as capital of a country where about 1.25 million people work in agriculture, it is a shame that Paris did not seem to get better advice about how to get sheep to graze successfully… But I am hopeful that the approach will be reviewed and made to work. There is a French company with the wonderful name of Ecomouton (Eco-sheep) that is apparently making a profit from leasing out the same breed of sheep to chateaux, farms etc for ecological lawn management (l’éco-tonte), so it is clearly possible.

    Bluenosegardener: thanks for the reference to Nassauer’s work, which I have mentioned on this blog before. Her research showed that people only tend to admire wildness if they know it is meant to look like that – so we may think that long meadow grass just looks unkempt, until a path is mown through it, and then we are much more likely to find it beautiful, because it is clearly a managed space. But here of course, the space did look managed and mown – until the sheep were introduced!

  7. Donna@Gardens Eye View
    August 12, 2013

    I do hope they look at this and tweak it a bit to make it work…I think it may be the type of grass and number of sheep as I have seen less sheep keep a grassy area mowed.

  8. This could be another of the so many projects (from public sector) trying to qualify as ecological or sustainable, which is positive, but your post shows that using eco approaches means also more attention to what is the final goal. Let’s hope that in the end it works and has influence.

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This entry was posted on August 5, 2013 by in Gardens, Paris, Parks and tagged , , .

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