What would happen if sheep stopped grazing our hillsides?

Christian Dunn discusses the effect of removing sheep from our uplands.

Sheep-grazing-at-Curbar-Edge-Derbyshire.-Peter-Thompson_Heritage-Images_Getty_623-ea45c4f

Much of the UK’s upland areas are grazed by sheep owned by hill farmers. Stopping or altering this practice often forms part of the call for the ‘rewilding’ of our landscapes.

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Political and social debates aside, it’s clear that removing sheep from our hills and mountains would have striking effects on local plants and wildlife. Sheep are selective grazers and bite close to the ground, so their absence would allow taller plants, grasses and shrubs to quickly break through.

Some species of tree could even start to dominate as their saplings could grow to maturity. Such new ecosystems would bring with them a host of animals and birds that currently don’t have the resources they need to survive on the upland landscape.

The process would certainly not be universal, however. A range of other factors would also come into play, such as location, soil type and condition – even climate change.


Do you have a wildlife question you’d like answered? Email your question to wildquestions@immediate.co.uk or post it to Q&A, BBC Wildlife Magazine, Immediate Media Company, Eagle House, Bristol, BS1 4ST.

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Main image: Sheep grazing at Curbar Edge, Derbyshire © Peter Thompson/Heritage Images/Getty