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Grazing on nature reserves

Grazing is recognised by Natural England as an important heathland management technique.  

Grazing in Bournemouth 

Cattle have grazed in our nature reserves for many years with great success. Cattle currently graze Kinson Common, Iford Meadows, Hengistbury Head and Turbary Common. 

Towards Boscombe Pier you might even spot some of the British feral goats that help us by grazing on the scrub at Honeycomb Chine. Their role is to control the non-native plants such as holm oak, garden privet and even pampas grass.  

Grazing in Christchurch 

The introduction of grazing by Galloway cattle at Purewell Meadow in 2005 has helped increase wildflower diversity in the meadows and has attracted insects including the great green bush-cricket, hornet robber fly and raft spider.  

A key component of management of Stanpit Marsh is the grazing done by two herds of semi-wild New Forest ponies. There’s a main herd living permanently on the site and a seasonal herd grazing Priory Marsh that is removed over winter. The ponies are cared for by a grazier. 

Grazing in Poole   

British White and Shetland cattle graze all year on most of Canford Heath. While in the summer months Shetland cattle graze on parts of Corfe Hills, Pine Springs, Bourne Valley and Dunyeats Hill, which is managed by the Amphibian and Reptile Conservation Trust. Shetland cattle also graze on parts of Talbot Heath.

Shetland cattle have been chosen because they’re very hardy, placid by nature and good browsers. The Dorset Urban Heaths Grazing Partnership has recently built up a breeding herd of over 30 rare breed Shetlands, representing one of the largest on mainland Britain. 

New Forest ponies graze all year on another part of Bourne Valley. 

A haven for wildlife 

Some of our most valuable wildlife habitats, such as heathland and grasslands, are not truly natural. Rather they have been created by the activities of humans and their livestock over centuries. 

For example, most heathland in Dorset has been grazed until recently, ever since the trees were first cleared by early farmers several thousand years ago.  

The resulting sunny open conditions, with patchy low-growing plants such as heather and gorse, provide an ideal habitat for a variety of wildlife, including our rarest reptiles such as the sand lizard and smooth snake. 

Other specialised wildlife also flourishes, such as the nightjar, Dartford warbler and Purbeck mason wasp. 

The benefits of grazing 

The regular cropping of the vegetation by livestock brings several benefits: 

  • it helps prevent scrub and trees from taking over 
  • it creates a patchwork of different vegetation heights and bare ground that suits the widest range of wildlife species 
  • dominant grasses are reduced, giving rare plants a chance to grow 
  • dung is required in the life cycle of certain invertebrates, including the nationally rare hornet robber fly. 

Without such management, heathland would quickly revert to continuous birch and pine woodland, with a thick understorey of bramble and rhododendron. The open conditions needed by heathland wildlife, and the landscape enjoyed by walkers and riders, would be lost. 

Visiting grazing areas 

Experience has shown that when cattle are first introduced, heathland users often have some initial trepidation, but they soon grow to appreciate the livestock as interesting additions to the scene.  

If you’re visiting one of our grazed nature reserves you should close gates you pass through. Gates that should be open will always be locked into position. 

You should also prevent dogs running right up to the cattle. Although docile by nature, they can defend themselves if attacked, even in play. 

Please do not feed or try to touch the livestock. Uncontrolled feeding will harm them and could also teach them to harass visitors for food.