Photo credit (banner): RFF / Capa Pictures / Christel Sasso

Eco-grazing: Counting (on) sheep

We’re using sheep, goats, cows and other herbivores to clear brush along part of our network. It’s an alternative approach to maintenance that’s easier on the environment—and it costs less, too.

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Breton sheep versus Japanese Knotweed

You may not realize it, but voracious Ouessant sheep are making your rail journeys safer. Though small, the Breton breed can devour impressive quantities of Japanese Knotweed, an invasive plant that threatens biodiversity. Each spring it begins encroaching on our lines— but the insatiable sheep now keep it in check, ensuring better visibility for train drivers and other SNCF employees.

Ces moutons qui roulent pour la SNCF

SNCF Réseau teams in Dijon have long known the power of eco-friendly brush-clearing solutions. Thanks to their partnership with shepherds from Ecozone, a French eco-grazing specialist, local residents have become accustomed to seeing herds of sheep browsing along the tracks in the city centre.

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All-terrain eco-mowers

But the sheep are only the beginning. We’re now carrying out some 50 eco-grazing experiments on our network, with goats from Lorraine, cows from the Scottish Highlands and even ponies.  As we return to this time-honoured practice—long abandoned in favour of herbicides and mechanical mowing—we’re partnering with local farmers, non-profits and eco-grazing specialists.

And the benefits don’t stop with sustainability: on average, eco-grazing costs 30% less than conventional methods. It turns out that ruminants are far more comfortable on steep, hard-to-reach slopes than either humans or machines.

Getting our goat

Getting our goat

Brush control: Why it matters

We clear our lines for five key reasons: to provide optimum visibility for train drivers and SNCF employees on the ground; to prevent fallen trees, branches, leaves and other obstructions from disrupting traffic; to enable first responders, police and passengers to move quickly if there’s an incident; to discourage wild animals from wandering onto the tracks; and to fight invasive plants.

The graphic shows a high-speed TGV running along a track. On either side there are key facts about eco-grazing.

  • 14,000 sq m, or nearly 2 football pitches, is the average area of an eco-grazing site
  • 76% of experiments are carried out along the busiest lines
  • 220 days a year is the average amount of grazing time for ruminants
  • 67% of experiments are carried out in urban regions
  • 30% cheaper on average than conventional methods

Cows hit the slopes

Under a partnership between SNCF and a farmer who specializes in local sourcing, long-haired cattle from the Scottish Highlands now feed on the banks of the Saint-Germain-des-Fossés triangle in central France.

Protecting a rare breed

At our Belleville station in eastern France, you’ll find rustic Lorraine goats browsing beside the tracks. In addition to clearing the line, the project—a partnership between SNCF and the Association of the Friends of the Lorraine Goat—boosts the small numbers of this unique French breed.

Sheep may safely graze

In Dijon’s city centre, Ouessant sheep—a Breton breed that nearly died out in recent years—are beating back Japanese Knotweed, an exotic species invading the rail network.

Close-up: The benefits of eco-grazing

  • less noise pollution
  • closer community ties
  • no harm to plants or animals
  • more effective against invasive plants