Conservation grazing is a natural and sustainable alternative to mechanical mowing of these sites and the selective nature of the grazing produces a tussocky appearance, providing a diverse range of structural habitats for insects, reptiles and amphibians. Our main livestock are cattle, but pigs and sheep are also used to achieve specific conservation aims on some sites. The cattle‘s diet is not restricted to grass, they enjoy eating a wide range of vegetation including brambles, leaves, bark and Himalayan balsam. Their hooves also break up bracken and rushes, so they are essential for managing the spread of invasive and undesirable plant species.
Our herd are Shetland cattle which are a native and a rare breed. This type of cow was selectively bred on the Shetland Isles, to give them a very hardy nature and an ability to cope in harsh conditions with poor grazing. The breed is recognised by the Rare Breed Survival Trust as being ‘at risk’, so our breeding herd is very important for their preservation. They are a small breed with a good temperament and so are good to graze sites that are used by the public and dog walkers.
The cows are checked daily by the Rangers, but we also have an essential team of volunteer cattle checkers who look in on the cattle when they are on a nature reserve near them. If you are interested in becoming a volunteer cattle checker please see the volunteer web page.