Amey’s Defence grass cutting teams introduce ecologically friendly Shetland Sheep to HMS Sultan

19 February 2020
Image of a mound surrounded by a wall.

HMS Sultan, located in our Regional Prime South West contract, has a rich and interesting history and is home to four Forts that were built in 1858 to protect Portsmouth Harbour. A key feature of the Forts is the circular keep, which is surrounded by a moat. The design of the forts means they are surrounded by very steep banks, sit on top of sheer drops and in some cases are set deep into cold and dirty water-filled moats.

In previous years, goats had been used to manage the grass, but due to them becoming very expensive to keep they were removed and the grass cutting and grounds maintenance regime was relaxed for 12 months.

However, in 2017, Amey and Tivoli, our grounds maintenance contractors, were asked to jointly assess the grass cutting requirements on these areas and undertake a comprehensive risk assessment due to the area becoming more and more overgrown. This was carried out with the safety of our operatives being the primary concern and it soon became clear that due to the extremely uneven landscape, conventional mowing was not an option.

It was agreed that the site should look to re-introduce grazing to the area and both The Defence Infrastructure Organisation (DIO) and the Establishment supported the use of sheep to maintain the open grassland and reduce the scrub encroachment.

Andrew Tregunna, Amey’s Project Manager, said “This was an unusual project for us and Tivoli to be involved in and we were keen to ensure we identified the right kind of sheep for the job. After being provided with expert advice from ex-DIO ecologist, Julie Swain, we approached the Hampshire and Isle of Wight Wildlife Trust (HIWWT) who suggested that pedigree Shetland Sheep would be ideal due to their small stature, nimble agility and their preference for coarser grass. They are also much cheaper to keep than goats.”

Hanna Etherington, the DIO ecologist for HMS Sultan has confirmed that in the areas where grazing has been introduced there are now swathes of semi-improved grassland with a wide range of wildflowers. Grazing will continue to be monitored over the winter to assess the impact the sheep are having on the area and our teams will be ready to step in should anything need adapting.

Last year the Forts were designated as a Site of Nature Conservation Interest (SNCI) meaning that HMS Sultan is a site that helps to raise awareness of its importance to wildlife and makes it a focus for nature conservation. Securing grazing for this site should maintain and enhance the semi-improved grassland interest of the SNCI well into the future.