USAG BENELUX-BRUNSSUM, Netherlands – Nearly 100 sheep arrived at U.S. Army Garrison Benelux - Brunssum June 3, 2022, to be released into a temporarily fenced grassy area on the post.
As part of the Department of Public Works (DPW) ecological mitigation plan, the sheep from a local business, Schaapskooi Mergelland, are given a few weeks to forage as an environmentally friendly way to maintain the grounds.
“We use the sheep to cut the vegetation,” said Julie Maessen, DPW environmental consultant. “When you just mow everything down then you are most likely hitting some of the protected species on base.”
Maessen explained that the sheep cut the plants much more slowly than a mower. This allows time for smaller critters to seek safe havens or find new habitats. The natterjack, a toad native to western Europe, is one example of a protected species in the Netherlands. It reproduces in the nearby quarries, and forages in the grassy areas at USAG Benelux – Brunssum. The effects of climate change have made survival more difficult for the natterjacks as they rely on pools of rainwater that must remain large enough so that the summer sun does not dry them up prematurely.
Watching out for endangered or protected species stands as a top priority for Dutch conservation organizations. Land inspections are essential before a renovation project is approved, and maintenance of land is also closely monitored.
Janine Lardenois, Schaapskooi Mergelland shepherd, explained how these inspections of the land make up a large part of her job when searching for the next project for her family’s sheep. Currently, their 3,000 sheep are delivered to various locations for foraging in support of biodiversity. Lardenois manages each project to ensure quality for the sheep and that the lands are maintained in a healthy manner. Her favorite element of the job remains shepherding: walking with the sheep in nature.
“When I was little, I was always with my dad, and I liked the way of life,” Lardenois said. “It’s a sort of freedom when you’re out in nature working the sheep and in the most beautiful places. It’s freedom on working time.”
In addition to the sheep, the family owns 20 border collies that accompany the projects and keep the sheep safe and together.
The USAG Benelux – Brunssum sheep serve more than just the purpose of cutting the grass; they also promote biodiversity. Their wool traps seeds from plants which then transports them to new locations. While some may see this spreading of weeds as not adding to beautification, “For the species, (biodiversity) is a good thing,” Maessen said.
Additionally, the sheep fertilize the ground, which can easily run bare and hard because of the surrounding minestone .
The sheep are not the only ecological project at USAG Benelux – Brunssum. Dead hedge barriers, or piles of stripped tree branches, around the post offer habitats for various creatures such as hedgehogs and birds.
“It’s an easy way to do a bit for nature,” said Maessen.
Maessen added that it is also convenient to avoid carting away pruning waste.
DPW also created a butterfly boulevard with a grassy, flowery mix of vegetation, which makes for a natural area conducive for butterfly reproduction. Their goal is to promote biodiversity in any capacity they can by monitoring sensitive areas on post and setting up mitigation plans.
After the sheep conclude their June visit on the installation, plans are set to bring them back in September once the vegetation has replenished.
To learn more on biodiversity at USAG Benelux, read the article Benelux’s Environmental Division proves crucial to APS-2 mission.