Grazing sheep help care for Oswestry Hillfort

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Sheep on the hill fortImage source, Oswestry Heritage Gateway Group
Image caption,
The sheep will help control bracken which could damage Old Oswestry Hillfort

Sheep have been brought in to graze on the site of a historic hillfort, to help protect it from overgrowing bracken.

The steepness of Old Oswestry Hillfort makes cutting back the bracken difficult, and left untreated it could damage the archaeology of the site.

The sheep, which arrived in May, thrive on "rough grassland and heath".

They are similar to those that would have previously been farmed in the area, say volunteers.

Built and occupied during the Iron Age, Oswestry is is one of Britain's best-preserved hillforts and has been protected since 1934 as a Scheduled Monument

Iron Age Hillforts

  • The Iron Age lasted in Britain for about 800 years (from c.750 BC to AD 43).
  • It was a time of great change and innovation and by the end of the period things like coinage had been introduced, wheel thrown pottery was being made and people had started to live in larger and more settled communities.
  • Many people lived in hillforts, which were surrounded by walls and ditches and defended people from enemy attacks.

Native to the British Isles, the Soay/Hebridean cross-breed has taken up residence in the hillfort's southern half.

Image source, Oswestry Heritage Gateway Group
Image caption,
The sheep are likely similar to those that would have been farmed on the hillfort during the Iron Age

Helen Allen of English Heritage said: "Over time, bracken has re-established itself on the hillfort, which can cause damage to underlying archaeology.

"The scale of the site and steepness of the slopes make it hard to cut the bracken back, so we consulted with our grazier and a local agricultural college on sustainable solutions that could be integrated into our ongoing landscape management.

"As a result, we decided to experiment with intensive sheep grazing in conjunction with other mechanical means to control the bracken cover."

Bernard Walker, landscape manager at English Heritage, said the introduction of the sheep will help support the management of the site by volunteers from the Oswestry Heritage Gateway Group and "will help us all to protect the hillfort's legacy so that people can continue to discover and enjoy the site".

Neil Phillips, from the group said, so far, "people enjoy having the sheep there".

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