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Railways rely on sheep to 'mow' grass by tracks

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Photo: SBB
20:30 CEST+02:00
Swiss Federal Railways (SBB) has contracted out with 80 four-footed individuals to cut the grass in areas alongside rail tracks.

SBB recently announced the engagement of Skudde sheep just as the season for cutting grass gets under way in earnest.

The state-owned rail operator tends around 2,700 hectares of embankments along its network to prevent disruptions to train services and to preserve green spaces.

This area is the size of almost 3,800 football pitches but not all areas can be readily reached by conventional lawnmowers, SBB said, explaining why it is using the sheep to help out.

Sheep offer an environmentally friendly way of managing vegetation along the railway, it said.

Grazing sheep promote biodiversity because “they eat carefully instead of mowing everything down like a machine”.

This allows for the protection of more meadow plants, while sheep do little damage to the ground (unlike cows, for example).

The SBB is using Skudde sheep, a rare domesticated breed that was threatened with extinction from Switzerland in the 1970s.

The animals are protected by ProSpecieRara, a Swiss non-profit foundation dedicated to preserving rare species of animals and plants threatened with extinction.

SBB said the sheep are kept away from the rails by electrified fencing that is reinforced with “snow netting” in steeper areas.

The animals are not bothered by the noise of trains and they “work” hard, sleeping only two hours a day, leaving plenty of time to munch on the greensward.

One sheep can trim 10 to 20 square metres of grass per day, the area of a large bedroom, SBB said.

The rail company has a map on its website that lets people know where the sheep are throughout the summer.

As of Sunday, they were in Liestal, a town in the canton of Basel-Country.

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