Voice Of The Field: Herd Mentality

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In the first of a new blog series exploring on-the-ground observations from the Ecosulis team, we’re thinking afresh about the case for mixed use of land.

We often hear from councils, agencies and landowners how challenging it is to manage sites where land has mixed uses, even though it is great for biodiversity. More often than not, if we propose a mixed-use scheme, concerns are raised about dogs interfering with cattle, cattle endangering people and cars, and overgrazing leading to poor quality pasture which is bad news for wildlife.

These worries are understandable, and there are valid reasons for some of the concerns (the impact of sheep, goats and deer on grass sward diversity and tree growth has been seen on many sites, our National Park a striking example of this). But there are just as many mixed-use success stories where careful thought is applied to planning, planting and design.

Ecosulis’ CEO Cain Blythe witnessed successful mixed-use first-hand last month: “I was on my way to look at work we had completed for Gloucestershire Wildlife Trust as part of its Wild Towns project with Ecosulis’ Nature Restoration Specialist Neil Melleney. We saw an intriguing sign at the entrance to Minchinhampton Common, after crossing a cattle grid. It showed a cow surrounded by wildflower-rich verges with pyramidal orchids, vetches, birdsfoot trefoil and a variety of grasses.

As we drove along the main road through the common, we noticed many signs pointing out the presence of the cattle. We also noticed a number of dog walkers including those with dogs off the leads, golf carts (there is a golf course in the centre of the common), and roads with cars travelling at speeds of at least 40mph. Amongst all this were herds of free-roaming cattle, including Highlands.”

Neil and Cain were taken aback by the scene, as it clearly demonstrated that it was possible to have herds of animals (one of the key aims of rewilding landscapes is to return large herbivores to the wild) on mixed-use land where you carefully plan the mitigation, stocking densities and breeds and seek support from the local community and users.

“Many of our projects leverage mixed use cases and seeing the approach in action gave us added confidence that our plans for expanding the use of grazing on our sites, with no-fence trials, were along the right tracks,” says Cain.

It was great to tour our Wild Towns sites, visiting Nailsworth, Moreton-In-Marsh, Cirencester and Fairford. The results after just a single season were dramatic, and it’s clear the project has been a great success story (for more on this, see our case study here).

Whilst we were in Gloucestershire, we also visited our plant nursery and inspected the narrow-leaved water dropwort (Oenanthe silaifolia) that we had grown on ready to be returned and replanted in our MG4 meadow in Buckinghamshire. We’d grown hundreds of these scarce plants from seed in the hope of good germination to ensure they remained in the sward following this complex habitats project. Not only had we been able to protect them during the works but we were able to increase their presence with the additional plants.

Feeling inspired, we headed back to Bath to visit our herds of Hereford and Redpoll cattle, in preparation for our NoFence trials. Dotty, one of the youngest Herefords, was in a particularly playful mood as she ran up to everyone and started nuzzling them.

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