Mowing the lawn is a chore I expect many people could happily do without, so I was intrigued to discover an alternative way to cut the grass being pioneered in France.

Companies, public authorities and individuals are renting sheep to keep their lawns tidy.

Cutting the grass in Marie-Josee Gellet’s yard in Lyon does not involve the irritating whirr of a mechanical lawnmower. Instead all you hear is gentle munching. “They basically roam freely in my garden, and just do what they want,” Marie-Josee said.

And a fellow resident of Lyon, 91-year-old Louis Roure, also takes advantage of the rent-a-sheep service. “Shrub and thorns are taking over here, it’s terrible,” he said. “I do not want to be invaded by them, so I have found a solution – the sheep. I have also found that they are great company too.”

The lawn-mowing sheep belong to Christophe Darpheuil, a pioneer of urban shepherding in France. He reckons his customers could become the “shepherds of the future”.

Christophe added: “There are such difficulties being a shepherd outside the city nowadays, but inside the city, the future is theirs.”

Christophe, director of Naturama, an association which promotes environmental education, brought a flock of rare breed Soay sheep to France from Scotland six years ago. But realised he didn’t have enough pasture to feed them – so he started renting them out to keep public spaces in trim.

“At first, people thought it was ridiculous,” Christophe said. “But once they saw how efficient it was, they said: ‘Oh, yeah! It’s worth it.’ Now, we have five or six city authorities who rent these sheep all year long.”

The Soay sheep are particularly suitable to this type of work because they need minimal attention – they even shed their fleeces. They can graze in areas hard to reach with machines and their droppings feed the land.

But those wanting even, manicured lawns with a nice stripe may not be satisfied with the look of the lawn after the sheep have visited. “Sheep, you have to understand, are eating for themselves – they are not worried about keeping the place looking perfect. They will select the grass that is the juiciest,” Christophe explained.

There are other obstacles too. Fences must be put up to contain the animals – and that involves working through bureaucratic red tape.

Christophe has learned to deal with these issues and now aims to share his expertise.

To train urban shepherds, he’s developing an educational program for the National Agronomics School in Toulouse.

“We will try to create a new kind of job,” he said. “You don’t need to have 300 sheep to earn a proper living. If you have only 30 to 40 sheep, you could live nearly all year long, renting out your sheep to the city authorities.”

Closer to home, cattle are used to graze Wolvercote Green and the Berks, Bucks and Oxon Wildlife Trust also use sheep and cattle for conservation grazing. As well as saving fuel, reducing noise and cutting CO2 emissions, livestock also help preserve biodiversity.

So our cash-strapped city and district councils might like to look at the rent-a-sheep idea for public parks and gardens. However there is a drawback – hungry sheep just won’t respect those attractive municipal flowerbeds.