Working to boost biodiversity in the City

Oslo European Green Capital

Fourteen sheep have summer jobs on the small island of Hovedøya close to the city centre, and they are unlikely to be short of work anytime soon. Their friendly and silent presence is keeping the cultural heritage site in tip-top condition.

Pixabay - Oslo

A thousand years ago, Cistercian monks were devoted to managing the open landscape on Hovedøya. Today the task has been assigned to 14 sheep. Thus an important, but very vulnerable, cultural heritage site on Oslo’s busiest island is being carefully managed and preserved. “We try to preserve Oslo’s biodiversity, to achieve a greener and more biodiverse city,” says Inge Grepstad Kristoffersen, head of cultural heritage sites and grazing animals at the City of Oslo’s Agency for Urban Development. He explains about a bonus of using sheep as a workforce: “You know, people like sheep. There is a high enjoyment factor in having sheep grazing here.” Having said that, “Sheep do a better job than workers in hi-vis jackets,” laughs Kristoffersen.

Now he leaps up onto his boat Langøyene, which will take us from Oslo city centre to idyllic Hovedøya and the agency’s operational unit.

Summer is at its height and people are flocking to Hovedøya.

On the way out of Oslo’s harbour basin, we let the Pearl of Scandinavia ferry, which serves the Oslo-Copenhagen route, go ahead of us. Behind us on Vippetangen towers the Vippa street food complex, which recently obtained funding for an innovative farming operation on its roof. Just 500 metres ahead of us is Hovedøya. Ground-breaking and historic farming practices are at either end of our route.

A cultural island

Hovedøya enjoys the most cultural history, the most visitors and the greatest biodiversity of any of Oslo’s islands. No island in the inner Oslo Fjord has a greater variety of plants than Hovedøya. A Cistercian monastery operated here from the early 12th century. In the 1530s, the island became Crown property. Since 1953, Hovedøya has been managed by the City of Oslo and has benefited the ordinary citizens of Oslo. Thanks partly to the mediaeval monks, who brought medicinal plants to the island, Hovedøya has an enormous diversity of plant species.

This diversity of species cannot be maintained without assistance. The number of visitors, particularly since the ferry started to run from Aker Brygge rather than Vippetangen, has increased sharply. The island’s biodiversity is under intense pressure. The very fine balance between conservation and use must be maintained, and the talents of the sheep are used in a careful and considered fashion. “First and foremost, the sheep reach places that strimmers and other mechanical cutters can’t access. In addition, they don’t make a racket. They do important work, but do it without making any noise,” says Kristoffersen.

The 14 sheep, which actually belong to Bogstad Gård in Sørkedalen, graze in a fenced off area for the first half of the summer, before being allowed to roam freely later in the season. In the first months, they graze an area of over six hectares.

Guardian of biodiversity

We are accompanied by Anders Thevik, who is caretaker and general handyman on Hovedøya. He has a bucket of feed to encourage the animals towards us. The black, grey and white sheep come trotting over as soon as they hear the bucket.

“Why do you have sheep here?”

“To keep the cultural heritage site well maintained. And to make the island more pleasant, and to manage the island actively. And of course it’s a way of preserving biodiversity,” says Thevik.

Bron: Messel, J. 2019. Working to boost biodiversity in the city. KlimaOsloEuropean Green Capital

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Icon image: Pixabay - Oslo