Trust for Gov­er­nors Island Wel­comes the Return of its Icon­ic Sheep Land­scap­ing Squad


Julienne Schaer

For the fourth con­sec­u­tive year the Trust for Gov­er­nors Island is wel­com­ing baaaaack a team of upstate sheep to stroll the Island’s grounds to eat inva­sive species of plants and pre­serve its ecosystem’s het­ero­gene­ity. The five sheep – Evening, Chad, Philip Aries, Bowie and Jupiter – returned to the Island this week from their home at Friends of Tivoli Lake Pre­serve and Farm in Albany. They will spend the spring and sum­mer in Ham­mock Grove, munch­ing away on inva­sive plant species like phrag­mites, bindweed and mugwort.

Since this pro­gram first start­ed in 2021 the sheep have eat­en rough­ly 14.5 acres worth of inva­sive plant species, start­ing with a whop­ping 8.26 acres that first year. The sheep ate three acres of plants in 2022 and 3.22 acres in 2023.

This work freed up thou­sands of work hours for the human beings that make up the Gov­er­nors Island hor­ti­cul­ture team, allow­ing them to focus on more impor­tant tasks. That includ­ed build­ing and land­scap­ing new path­ways in Ham­mock Grove that vis­i­tors to the Island can enjoy, among oth­er items.

Every year we are excit­ed to wel­come our sheep friends to their sum­mer home on Gov­er­nors Island, not only because they are amaz­ing crea­tures and beloved by our vis­i­tors but also because they put in the hard work that allows our hor­ti­cul­ture team to focus on more impor­tant tasks than mow­ing lawns and pulling weeds,” said Clare New­man, Pres­i­dent and CEO of the Trust for Gov­er­nors Island. We encour­age New York­ers and vis­i­tors from all over the world to take a quick fer­ry ride to Gov­er­nors Island, see the sheep in action, enjoy the best view in New York City and take in every­thing this won­der­ful place has to offer.”

We are thrilled to con­tin­ue to part­ner with Gov­er­nors Island, and our flock is hap­py to be back at work in Ham­mock Grove,” said Kim Tateo, Exec­u­tive Direc­tor and Farm Man­ag­er of Friends of Tivoli Lake Pre­serve and Farm. It has been incred­i­ble to wit­ness how, over the past four years, the sheep have been able to improve the plant diver­si­ty in Ham­mock Grove and help cre­ate a health­i­er habi­tat for all vis­i­tors to Gov­er­nors Island. We are excit­ed to offer more pub­lic engage­ment with the sheep this year, allow­ing them to edu­cate New York­ers on the inno­v­a­tive ser­vices they pro­vide both here on the Island and at their home upstate.” 

The sheep issued a joint state­ment express­ing their ela­tion on return­ing to Gov­er­nors Island for the fourth year.

Baaaaaaa, baaaaaa, baaaaaa,” they bleat­ed. Baaaaa, baaaaaa!”

Mug­wort, phrag­mites, bindweed and oth­er inva­sive plant species have a com­pet­i­tive nature and crowd oth­er plant­i­ngs on Gov­er­nors Island, essen­tial­ly cre­at­ing a mono­cul­ture. The sheep eat­ing these herba­ceous plants helps to break down and weak­en them, pre­vent­ing them from flow­er­ing and the seeds spreading.

Sheep are also unique­ly suit­ed to the work on Gov­er­nors Island, more so than goats or oth­er ani­mals, since their culi­nary tastes do not include tree bark. The sheep will eat around the young trees in Ham­mock Grove and focus on phrag­mites and oth­er del­i­ca­cies, while goats would devour vir­tu­al­ly any plant life they could get their hooves on — inva­sive or not.

Sev­er­al pub­lic engage­ment events will be held on Gov­er­nors Island in part­ner­ship with Friends of Tivoli Lake Pre­serve and Farm, fea­tur­ing live sheep herd­ing, Q&A’s with our shep­herds, and hands-on wool activ­i­ties, with dates to be announced on www​.gov​is​land​.org/​t​h​i​n​g​s​-​to-do.

In Novem­ber 2023, the Trust launched the Gov­er­nors Island Nature pro­gram, which fos­ters vis­i­tor engage­ment with Gov­er­nors Island’s 120 acres of nat­ur­al and built open spaces and pro­motes hor­ti­cul­ture prac­tices employed by the Trust’s team that sup­port bio­di­ver­si­ty — of which the land­scap­ing sheep are an ide­al exam­ple. In addi­tion to help­ing main­tain healthy, bio­di­verse habi­tats in Ham­mock Grove, the sheep allow our team to min­i­mize use of her­bi­cide along with mow­ers and oth­er tools pow­ered by fos­sil fuels. 

Through learn­ing, pub­lic pro­grams, and stew­ard­ship projects, Gov­er­nors Island Nature aims to edu­cate New York­ers about hor­ti­cul­ture and the impacts of cli­mate change on our nat­ur­al sur­round­ings, while pro­mot­ing Gov­er­nors Island as a sanc­tu­ary for all beings. In-per­son events and activ­i­ties are accom­pa­nied by a suite of dig­i­tal resources that includes an inter­ac­tive tree map, a Plant Watch” page, and more.