Sheep - our woolly conservators

A mixed flock of sheep grazing in the marsh

We use our special sheep to help clear areas of scrub land we are trying to restore to their former wood pasture status. The sheep can be easily stressed, so we ask you to ensure that any dogs are under control and kept out of the fenced off areas where the sheep graze.

Hatfield Forest has been home to livestock since at least the medieval period.  Today the resident flock of conservation grazing sheep continue this tradition.

Hardy Breeds

The flock contains a number of hardy and rare breeds.  With digestive systems similar to a goat (and looks as well), the flock is chosen for its ability to eat the scrubby/coarse growth. At present the forest is home to:

  • Hebridean,
  • Manx,
  • Woodland,
  • Jacob, and
  • Wiltshire Horn

There are about 23 sheep in total and many were bred at the National Trust site at Orford Ness


The sheep are used to graze a number of key areas where cattle cannot be used. They are often seen in the Marsh, at the top end of the Lake, and in Old Woman’s Weaver, where the ground conditions are too wet for cattle. They are also used to graze areas which have been cleared of hawthorn scrub. 

Scrub clearance

During the post war years, due to a lack of grazing, much of the now rare wood pasture (grass land with harvested pollard trees) was allowed to grow up.  Young hawthorn scrub woodland became established in many places.

We are working to restore this rare and important habitat and historic landscape by clearing these areas. To prevent regrowth, we often section off areas, known as scrub sites, and graze the sheep on them for a number of years to fully return them to wood pasture. To find out more about this please click here .

You can see examples of these scrub sites in the southern part of the forest, around the Doodle Oak Gate area. The sheep are usually grazed here during the summer months.

Together we can help keep this thousand year tradition going.

Our flock of Hebridean sheep
Hebridean sheep grazing on reclaimed scrub land in the Forest
Our flock of Hebridean sheep

Dog etiquette

The sheep-grazed areas are fenced with stock-proof fencing.  This keeps the sheep in but won’t necessarily keep dogs out.

Always have your dog on a short lead in signed areas and when you see livestock. Your dog may not see the sheep as interesting, but they will see any dog as a predator and will become very stressed as a result.

Please don’t enter the sheep enclosures.

Pastoral Care

The sheep are checked on a daily basis by the ranger team.  To ensure their best care, please don’t feed them anything. When needed, we give them supplementary feed.  The areas they graze are able to support the size of flock we have. 

In case of an issue or an emergency 

If you see anything which you think needs our attention, please call us on 01279 870 678 or, in an emergency, such as to report a dog attack or escaped sheep, call 07808 889556.