Comedian Paul O’Grady has called for the tradition of sheep-herding over London Bridge for charity to be scrapped.
The For The Love Of Dogs presenter has written to the Lord Mayor of London, Fiona Woolf, urging her to end the practice to protect the “intelligent and complex” animals.
Although the right no long applies under Freedom of the City rules, previous mayors have continued the ancient tradition to drive a flock of sheep over the landmark to raise thousands for the Lord Mayor’s appeal.
But in a personal letter to Ms Woolf, O’Grady, 59, requested that the event is stopped because it causes “distress” to the sheep.
“I hope you will agree that sheep are not inanimate props,” he wrote.
“As someone who has had the pleasure of sharing my home with these wonderful animals, I can tell you that sheep are intelligent and complex individuals.
“Herding sheep down a very busy London street while cars continue to speed along the road next to them shows a disregard for their welfare and needlessly causes them distress.
“I have no doubt that you would be able to match, if not exceed, the donations that the previous Lord Mayor received by promoting an event without the use of any animals, and compassionate Londoners would thank you for it.”
Last year Lord Mayor Alderman Roger Gifford drove 20 sheep over the bridge to raise money for charity. It is understood this year’s event is due to take place on October 5.
The Freedom of the City dates back to the 12th century and is now largely an honorary title.
The right to drive sheep across London Bridge was originally granted to allow traders to bring sheep into the City for sale, with other privileges once including being allowed to be drunk and disorderly without being arrested and to carry a naked sword in public.
A spokesman for the City of London’s Animal Health and Welfare Services said: “We oversee this event under the Animal Welfare Act 2006 and a veterinary officer is there on duty, along with an officer from the RSPCA, to ensure that animal welfare requirements are met and that the sheep have appropriate shelter, food and water throughout the day.
“Traffic is separated from the sheep by heavy barriers and cones as well as ’slow’ signs in place in order to limit the sheep’s exposure to traffic noise.”
An RSPCA spokesman said: “Mr O’Grady, who himself once adopted an abandoned lamb from the RSPCA, is a huge champion of animal welfare and so we appreciate his genuine concern.
“We would gently remind those involved of their responsibility for the proper care of the sheep, as has already been acknowledged by the City of London’s Animal Health and Welfare Services themselves.”