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Page last updated at 14:38 GMT, Tuesday, 18 August 2009 15:38 UK
'Part-time shepherd' counts sheep
By Chris Edgar
BBC Oxford contributor

Chris Edgar
Chris hikes up Hartslock Nature Reserve every Wednesday

It seems to be a curiosity when you tell people you're a 'part-time' shepherd, but I've been doing it for five months now and really enjoy it.

I'd been a member of the Wildlife Trust for a while and always fancied volunteering.

My job means that I'm sat at a desk, so I wanted something that would get me outside and help keep me fit.

I liked the idea of working with animals too, so I opted for stockwatching.

Hartslock is fairly near where I live and they needed someone to check on the sheep there. Before I started I did a day-long training course with BBOWT, which covered why the animals are used, health and safety, things like that.

The flock I look after is a mix of Beulah and Hebridean sheep, 28 in all. Wednesday is my allocated day, so each week I cycle to the reserve from home - it's a lovely trip along the river. I then walk up onto the hill to the sheep and it's quite a hike.

Hartslock Reserve
Hartslock is a reserve on a chalk hillside in south Oxon near the Thames

First I do a count - it's better to get them on the move for that - then check for health problems like limping or coughing. We have emergency contact numbers, but so far it's all been fine. Although I did put my foot down a rabbit hole once and lost a shoe!

Hartslock itself is really beautiful - it's very tranquil. Going there is a good way to de-stress. But the exercise is the main thing for me; I love the fact that volunteering provides the motivation to get outdoors whatever the weather.

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