How 100 cows deployed as a “secret grassroots weapon” are helping to preserve 50,000 acres of the Cotswolds
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Conservationists attempting to preserve some 50,000 acres of the Cotswolds have unveiled their new “secret grassroots weapon” - 100 cows. The Stroud Landscape Project in Gloucestershire spans over 21,000 hectares, and is aiming to make the landscape in the area richer for nature.
The National Trust is now taking help from 100 Belted Galloway Cattle to produce a network of wild areas less vulnerable to climate change. Belted Galloways, also known more affectionately as “Belties”, are masters at grazing steep slopes and at devouring grasses most other animals would find less appetising.
With the Belties’ help, delicate plants and herbs such as marjoram, thyme, vetches and rare orchids are thriving along with a wide range of wildlife such as greater horseshoe bats and Duke of Burgundy butterflies. Deployed at just the right time and in the right numbers, the cows manage the grasslands, and depending on the wildlife to be encouraged they can leave the grass long or short, acting as natural lawn mowers - and fertilisers.
This year, a young pedigree Beltie bull named Charlie is joining the Stroud Landscape Project mowing team. Charlie is red and white as opposed to the more familiar ‘humbug’ striped black and white of a Belted Galloway.
Studies have revealed how this simple change to fur pattern is having a positive impact on both the herd and the environment. Matt Watts, National Trust Farm Manager said, “We’re already seeing hotter, drier summers as a result of climate change.
''There have been a lot of studies on heat stress and coat colour in livestock, with lighter coated cattle proven to cope better with the heat, so this year we took the decision to buy a red and white bull.
“Charlie is settling in well and we’ll see his first offspring next spring. In the future we hope to have a future-proof conservation grazing herd, and one that is key to the way we manage and maintain this wilder, species-rich landscape.”
Some of the Belted Galloway herd have now moved into Woodchester Park as part of the Stroud Landscape Project’s plans. Here, the Belties’ are supporting a colony of rare horseshoe bats whose summer roost is in Woodchester Mansion at the heart of the park.
At Woodchester Park, plans to accelerate the restoration of nearly 48 hectares of mainly former conifer plantations to species-rich grassland and native woodland are well underway. David Armstrong, Stroud Landscape Project Delivery Manager said, “Our climate is changing at a faster rate than ever, and nature is in trouble.
"The challenge ahead is huge and complex, but the Stroud Landscape Project is confronting the climate and nature emergencies head-on. The solutions can be simple, and many are very much within our grasp – we need to create havens for wildlife that boost biodiversity.”
Working closely with landowners, environmental bodies, local councils and communities to create a dynamic and thriving landscape of connected habitats throughout the Stroud Valleys and along the Cotswold escarpment, supporting nature’s recovery and confronting the climate emergency, the project, which started in 2017, has already seen wildflower grasslands flourishing, ancient woodlands being restored, wildlife corridors established and lost species reintroduced such as the large blue butterfly.
The Trust’s Stroud Landscape Project works with partners such as Gloucestershire Wildlife Trust, Natural England, Butterfly Conservation and Cotswold National Landscape as well as private landowners and farmers.
Jennifer Gilbert, Cotswold Landscape Office for Butterfly Conservation said: “A combination of the Stroud Landscape Project’s conservation grazing herd of Belted Galloway cattle and practical habitat management led by our Gloucestershire branch of volunteers is ensuring that the grassland at our Rough Back reserve stays in good condition and continues to support the more common and the rarest of inhabitants.”
Mark Funnell, Communications and Campaigns Director at the National Trust added: “This is exactly the type of project that we need to see more of across the country to help Save our Wild Isles. Nature is in trouble. As a country we have fallen behind in caring for nature with 38 million birds vanishing from UK skies over the past 50 years, 97 per cent of our wildflower meadows lost since the 1930s and a quarter of our mammals at risk of extinction.
“We need nature – and nature needs us. We know that by working with others it is far easier to scale up our fight to tackle the nature crisis – and it is through projects like these that you can often see quick results that not only benefit nature – but people too.
“We have big ambitions along with many in the sector to do all that we can to reverse nature decline so that we can see vast improvements by 2030. If we can encourage other landowners to knit together pockets of land in similar ways – appropriate to their particular land types and nature needs – there is definitely all to play for in terms of nature recovery over the next seven years.”