Trevethy Stone by Charles Knight (circa 1845)
Pivate collection, Great Britain
Well, it’s not just sheep, and it’s not just prehistoric sites with sarsens or other standing stones in them, but it is an indication of the disruption, if not the actual damage, sheep and other livestock are causing to, and at, some of our heritage sites here in Britain. We recently ran a feature by Mr Roy Goutté on the disruption (and potential damage) caused by horse-riding and vehicular activity to the ground immediately surrounding Trethevy Quoit in Cornwall. This was an extreme example of such damage but we’ve noticed similar activity across the country from Carreg Samson in south-west Wales to Avebury in Wiltshire. At Carreg Samson there is no exclusion zone between the monument and the cattle that are allowed to use the stones as ‘rubbing posts’ – consequently the cattle churn up the ground around the monument in the same way as horses have at Trethevy Quoit.
At Avebury, sheep are allowed to graze freely within the circle but, although they do not churn up the ground in the same way as horses or cattle, they do, nonetheless, have an adverse affect on the stones and the thousands of people who visit the area each year. Using sheep is perhaps an environmentally friendly way of keeping the grass short but it’s no easy task avoiding the animals’ countless droppings and nigh on impossible to find a clean place to sit on the grass and enjoy the place for what it is. More worrying is the affect the sheep are having on the stones; take a moment to look at this photo and try to guess what the problem might be.
A pastoral scene of sheep grazing at the Avebury Stone circle or something more unpleasant?
Image credit and © Moss
Did you spot the problem? If not look at the photo below. There’s a dark line of dirt and lanolin near the bottom of each stone where the sheep have rubbed themselves against it. This can hardly be very healthy for children who may come in contact with the dirt, not to mention the affect it might be having on the delicate lichen that grows on the stones.
A dark line of dirt and lanolin near the bottom of each stone due to sheep activity (note sheep on left)
Image credit and © Moss
The Heritage Trust would suggest that an exclusion zone is put in place around all our ancient monuments where damage or disruption from livestock activity might be a potential hazard to those monuments or to public health and safety.