No, you’re not seeing things. Those slowly moving white balls of fluff visible amongst the vines are a flock of sheep. They’ve been here all winter, grazing their way around the vineyards, filling up on our grasses and helping us delay getting the mowers out.
Keeping it local
Finding grazing situations is a perennial challenge for shepherds, who sometimes have to transport flocks miles away during winter. Keeping flocks as local as possible is the ideal, and it’s hard to find more local to Romney Marsh than here at Gusbourne.
When Chief Vineyard Manager Jon Pollard asked the shepherds working nearby Gusbourne’s vineyards in Kent and West Sussex about bringing their flocks to work the land here this winter, they both jumped at the chance to get their animals grazing locally.
This arrangement brings a bounty of benefits. The sheep are spared long lorry journeys to and from a distant pasture. The shepherds are spared transport costs. In the vineyard, the sheep keep the grasses nice and tidy, including taking care of some of the perennial weeds. The added bonus? A healthy dose of organic fertiliser.
Come spring, says Jon, this means that the vineyard teams can leave some of the heavier equipment – mowers and cultivators – in the shed for a little longer. This saves fuel and results in less soil compaction in the between the rows. “Having a tidier vineyard at the beginning of the season helps with healthy vine competition, as well as with mitigating some of the risks of frost. Plus of course it’s a great community initiative. We’re helping the neighbours, they’re helping us and we’re creating a sort of hyperlocal circular economy.”
In this first year, not every vineyard will get the benefit of our woolly visitors – some 200 pure Romney Marsh sheep in Kent and a mixed flock of around 100 in West Sussex, including pedigree Southdowns, Romneys and a Mule cross from the Highlands. However, Jon and his team are already talking about increasing the flocks’ numbers next winter. And when the spring lambs are born, they’ll have been nurtured on a truly local diet.
Gusbourne Estate is open for visitors year round. Come see our local flock – and our team – at work by booking a tour.