Pete shep­herds his flock and helps the wildlife to flour­ish

Pete God­frey has been a shep­herd at RSPB South Stack since Septem­ber 2009. Here he am­swers ques­tions about his life and work.

Bangor Mail - - RSPB SOUTH STACK -

How did you get to be a shep­herd at RSPB South Stack?

RSPB Cymru ap­proached the An­gle­sey Graz­ing An­i­mals Part­ner­ship (AGAP) look­ing to em­ploy a shep­herd to as­sist with con­ser­va­tion graz­ing on the heath­land and I was asked to close shep­herd a flock of sheep for them.

What are your main du­ties and re­spon­si­bil­i­ties?

I take the sheep up onto the re­serve to graze, with the dogs; I’m re­spon­si­ble for keep­ing the sheep un­der con­trol so that they don’t wan­der. The sheep un­der my con­trol se­lec­tively graze so my dogs and I move the sheep to graze the ar­eas that the war­den, Denise Shaw, has iden­ti­fied. So that the sheep can be tracked, I am also re­spon­si­ble for putting a GPS tracker on one of the sheep so that we can see where they graze, for how long and how of­ten. I’m re­spon­si­ble for keep­ing the sheep to­gether and bring­ing them all down in the evening.

De­scribe a day in the life of a shep­herd on a na­ture re­serve?

It’s very in­ter­est­ing! I meet peo­ple from all over the world at South Stack. If the weather is fine, I can have hun­dreds of peo­ple stop­ping and ask­ing me about the sheep, the dogs, and the close shep­herd­ing. If the weather is bad, I can get on with my shep­herd­ing!

You also have your own farm. How dif­fer­ent is run­ning that com­pared to work­ing on a clifftop re­serve?

My land is on open moun­tains, my sheep are “hefted” onto the moun­tain, which means that the sheep won’t roam be­cause they only know one area from be­ing lambs. The big­gest dif­fer­ences are that they aren’t close shep­herded; they stay on the moun­tain from April 1 un­til the sec­ond week of Novem­ber. The graz­ing is just to ben­e­fit the lambs.

What is your favourite part of the year and why?

Prob­a­bly lamb­ing time, though I’m not re­ally sure why. I re­ally en­joy this time of year. I think that it is be­cause of the new life be­ing born and ev­ery­thing in na­ture is com­ing to life too. It’s the end of win­ter and spring is on its way.

Some peo­ple might view shep­herd­ing as be­ing a lonely ex­is­tence… what do you think about when you’re out with the sheep?

Mostly I con­cen­trate on the dogs, I even chat with them! I’m on my own most of the day, so yes, some­times it can seem a long day. When the weather is bad the sheep don’t move very much and this can seem like a very long day. My mind of­ten wan­ders and I think about all sorts of things.

How does the sim­ple act of graz­ing sheep help with na­ture con­ser­va­tion?

It takes the veg­e­ta­tion down and clears the thick, mat­ted grass so that the flower seeds un­der­neath can get the light that they need to grow again.

The sheep shorten the grass over the win­ter months and al­low light to pen­e­trate through to the ground al­low­ing ger­mi­na­tion of the dor­mant flower seeds. The flow­ers then shoot up, which en­cour­ages the but­ter­flies, bees and other in­sects. This also has a pos­i­tive im­pact on the birds and other wildlife at South Stack.

Also, af­ter the sheep have grazed in this way, the chough will eat the grubs in the sheep dung. Hav­ing the sheep is hav­ing a mas­sively pos­i­tive im­pact for the chough at South Stack.

Heath­land habi­tats have been ma­nip­u­lated by hu­man ac­tiv­ity through graz­ing, cut­ting and burn­ing for thou­sands of years which has cre­ated the unique habi­tat and wildlife. Graz­ing is one of the most ef­fec­tive and sus­tain­able meth­ods of main­tain­ing the habi­tat. He­bridean sheep are par­tic­u­larly hardy and thrive on nu­tri­ent-poor veg­e­ta­tion, so are an ideal breed for graz­ing on heath­lands.

What is the big­gest chal­lenge you face in your line of work?

Deal­ing with vis­i­tors is a new ex­pe­ri­ence for me. I do like it but it can be a chal­lenge. Peo­ple are very in­ter­ested and want to take pic­tures of me and the dogs. Though I am try­ing to shep­herd, I also love to see vis­i­tors en­joy­ing the re­serve. I also en­joy talk­ing to vis­i­tors about shep­herd­ing and the won­der­ful wildlife at South Stack. There are a cou­ple of vis­i­tors that come ev­ery year to see me and the dogs!

RSPB South Stack now run half day Meet the Shep­herd Ex­pe­ri­ence events from Au­gust 7 to Novem­ber 24, Mon­day to Fri­day, where you can book to spend the morn­ing with me and the dogs work­ing with the sheep. We go and have a nice bowl of soup then for lunch at South Stack cafe. This is all very new for me, though it is chal­leng­ing. I’m chat­ting about my favourite thing, shep­herd­ing, and to peo­ple that are in­ter­ested, so I re­ally like it.

Is there a dif­fer­ence be­tween moun­tain shep­herd­ing and shep­herd­ing on a coastal re­serve?

Yes, shep­herd­ing on a re­serve for con­ser­va­tion is much more tar­geted and much more con­trolled.

What do you en­joy most about work­ing at RSPB South Stack?

Denise, the war­den. I re­ally like work­ing with Denise but RSPB South Stack is also a won­der­ful and breath­tak­ing place to work.

Pic­ture: San­dra Bar­rett

Pete God­frey has been a shep­herd at RSPB South Stack since Septem­ber 2009

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