Paris Employs a Few Black Sheep to Tend, and Eat, a City Field
PARIS — The archivists requested a donkey, but what they got from the mayor’s office were four wary black sheep, which, as of Wednesday morning, were chewing away at a lumpy field of grass beside the municipal archives building as the City of Paris’s newest, shaggiest lawn mowers.
Mayor Bertrand Delanoë has made the environment a priority since his election in 2001, with popular bike- and car-sharing programs, an expanded network of designated lanes for bicycles and buses, and an enormous project to pedestrianize the banks along much of the Seine.
The sheep, which are to mow (and, not inconsequentially, fertilize) an airy half-acre patch in the 19th Arrondissement are intended in the same spirit. City Hall refers to the project as “eco-grazing,” and it notes that the four ewes will prevent the use of noisy, gas-guzzling mowers and cut down on the use of herbicides.
Paris has plans for a slightly larger eco-grazing project not far from the archives building, assuming all goes well; similar projects have been under way in smaller towns in the region in recent years.
The sheep, from a rare, diminutive Breton breed called Ouessant, stand just about two feet high. Chosen for their hardiness, city officials said, they will pasture here until October inside a three-foot-high, yellow electrified fence.
“This is really not a one-shot deal,” insisted René Dutrey, the adjunct mayor for the environment and sustainable development. Mr. Dutrey, a fast-talking man in orange-striped Adidas Samba sneakers, noted that the sheep had cost the city a total of just about $335, though no further economic projections have been drawn up for the time being.
Nor has the question of smell been much considered, officials said. (Though to judge by the aromas in the air on Wednesday morning, odor should not prove too problematic.)
Surprisingly, though, there are concerns that the sheep may in fact cause a drop in biodiversity. Municipal workers have discovered four distinct varieties of orchids on the s patch of grass where the sheep graze, for instance, said Marcel Collet, the farmer overseeing the sheep for the city farm, the Ferme de Paris.
Scientists will monitor the mix of plant and animal species on hand, Mr. Collet said.
Biodiversity aside, the site, on a hilly, uncrowded edge of eastern Paris, is in some ways quite ideal for grazing sheep, he noted. A metal fence surrounds the grounds of the archives, and a security guard stands watch at the gate, so there is little risk that local predators — large, unleashed dogs, for instance — will be able to reach the ewes.
Curious humans, however, are encouraged to visit the sheep, and perhaps the archives, too. The eco-grazing project began as an initiative to attract the public to the archives, and informational panels have been put in place to explain what, exactly, the sheep are doing here.
“Myself, I wanted a donkey,” said Agnès Masson, the director of the archives, an ultramodern 1990 edifice built of concrete and glass. Sheep, it was decided, would be more appropriate.
But the archivists have had to be trained to care for the animals. In the unlikely event that an ewe should flip onto her back, Ms. Masson said, someone must rush to put her back on her feet.
“Otherwise, it risks smothering itself,” she said.