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Saturday, 3 November, 2001, 10:22 GMT
Sheep taught to stay put
Sheep grazing
Sheep have a tendency to wander off
Free-roaming sheep which are being re-introduced to the Forest of Dean are being taught not to invade nearby villages.

The foot-and-mouth cull saw sheep disappear from the ancient Gloucestershire forest for the first time in 400 years.

The slaughtered sheep were "hefted" herds which instinctively knew their territory, although some came to regard nearby villages as their home.

Now discussions are under way to introduce new herds of "hefted" sheep which will be trained not to invade local communities.

Ship badgerers

In the past the wandering of sheep caused tension between the herders - or "ship badgerers" - and villagers as property could be damaged.

Rob Guest is deputy surveyor for Forest Enterprises which is helping in the re-introduction of the sheep.

He said: "The principle behind hefting is that the sheep regard somewhere as home.

Sheep grazing
Sheep graze the forest undergrowth
"In the past, before foot-and-mouth, a number of sheep regarded home as the centre of Parkend village.

"What we hope to do is get the sheep so they regard home away from the centre of the community

"That is not to say they won't wander into the communities but it won't be their home. That is the principle we are working towards."

The "hefted" sheep are a tradition at the Royal forest where "commoners" can let their herds graze the forest.

Kate Biggs, director of the Dean Heritage Centre, said: "We have got to have the sheep back. They provide a certain type of biodiversity in the way they graze.

"It is going to be quite a long haul to get them into their patch.

"One local ship badgerer has sheep which will travel five or six square miles.

Ruined gardens

"If you put in a sheep that has not been hefted before they are inclined to wander off.

"A hefted sheep will learn its route. The lambs would learn from the older ones.

"If the sheep got into built-up areas they might get into people's gardens and make a mess in the gardens and along the roads.

"The moves are designed to make sure the sheep stay in the forested areas so they are away from towns and villages."

It is expected that the herds, which are likely to originate from Wales, will be introduced in the spring.

Herders have warned however that to train the sheep could take up to three years.

Andy Vivian,
talks to Morris Bent from Ruardean Hill
See also:

31 Oct 01 | England
Lottery 'bist a butty' to dialect
14 Aug 01 | Wales
Beacons cull reaches key stage
22 Jun 01 | UK
New hope for Forest people
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