Shepherd for a Week – Popular Volunteer Work for Valuable Landscapes

Working as a shepherd for a week is an excellent possibility to take part in caring for valuable traditional rural landscapes in nature reserves and to experience an essential part of Finnish cultural history: life on an old farm.

The shepherds help to manage landscapes in locations where this would not otherwise be possible.

The shepherding weeks are a unique concept developed by Metsähallitus, Parks & Wildlife Finland. It combines an experience-rich holiday with caring for valuable traditional rural landscapes. Shepherding weeks are cooperation where everyone benefits between Metsähallitus, the volunteer shepherds and the sheep farmers .

Grazing animals keep a nature reserve’s meadows and wooded pastures open. Small-scale livestock farming is no longer practised in Finland, and as grazing declines, meadows and their indigenous species have become rare throughout the country. In well-tended traditional landscapes, however, these demanding plants and insects are still plentiful.

Working as a shepherd for a week is a chance to do important work to preserve valuable landscapes in national parks or other nature reserves. At the same time, you get to enjoy amazing scenery, beautiful nature and a leisurely lifestyle while caring for sheep. For a volunteer shepherd, the week is a unique source of well-being.

Sheep farmers who do not have enough pastures also benefit from the volunteer shepherd arrangement, as their sheep can graze on excellent pastures in nearby nature reserves and receive appropriate care provided by temporary shepherds. The grazing livestock can also be cows or horses. Financial support is additionally available for the farmers through the EU agri-environmental support scheme when they lease a pasture in a nature reserve.

Being a shepherd for a week has introduced thousands of people to landscape management

Applications for a chance to be a shepherd for a week are received in January. Parks & Wildlife Finland receives around 4,000 applications every year, and the shepherds are selected by a draw. The shepherds pay a fee for their week, which is used to cover each location’s maintenance costs and nature management expenses.

Each volunteer shepherd travels to an old farm, with family or friends if they like, for a week to care for the animals that maintain the landscapes of the nature reserve. The shepherd’s daily duties consist of ensuring the well-being of the animals, providing them with fresh drinking water and herding them from a depleted patch of pasture to the next.

Taking care of traditional landscapes requires a lot of work. If it wasn’t for the sheep and the shepherds, many former pastures and meadows of old farms would become overgrown, and the biodiversity and cultural history of the sites would be lost.

The shepherd for a week practice developed in Finland can be used in all European countries as a win-win method of nature management.

The practice was selected as the best landscape project in Finland in 2016.