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Hardy heathland's new caretakers mooove in

Cows on Blackdown

9:08am 13th October 2017

A Dorset heathland beauty spot is being restored to its former glory - thanks to a herd of cows.

Dorset County Council has introduced Galloway cattle to graze Blackdown, its 160-acre Site of Special Scientific Interest (SSSI) around the Hardy Monument near Dorchester.

Grazing is a traditional method of maintenance dating back to the Bronze Ages, which helped create our rare and wildlife-rich heathlands.

The Black and Belted Galloways, which have been chosen for their temperament and grazing ability, will graze on the site's tussock grass and vegetation. By helping keep bracken under control they will allow heathland species such as bilberry, heather and gorse to thrive.

Russell Goff, senior ranger for the council, said:

"Our Bronze Age ancestors would have grazed animals on the site, burned the gorse in their ovens and used the heather for bedding.

"As these traditional methods of keeping warm and cooking are no longer used, we have to intervene to stop the site reverting back to scrubby woodland, which would be detrimental to the species that live there. Heathland is an internationally rare 'man-made' habitat that needs our intervention to conserve and protect."

The council's ranger team has been working with local farmer and grazier Martin Reynolds to make the site safe for cattle while keeping it accessible to the public. The herd is monitored by a state-of-the-art tracking system and herd management scheme.

Martin said:

"I have lived and worked in the area around Blackdown for many years and I am very proud to be a part of this heathland regeneration project."

Councillor Daryl Turner, the council's Cabinet member for natural and built environment, said:

"It's great to be bringing this traditional way of managing our historic heathland back to Blackdown.

"These hardy Galloway cows are ideal caretakers for the site. It's good for them and for us. They get to roam free and eat their fill while helping restore Blackdown to a thriving heathland.

"You can walk around the site safely while the cows are there as long as you keep dogs on a lead, treat the animals with respect and stay aware."

Blackdown sits on the South Dorset Ridgeway, part of the Dorset Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty (AONB).

A new car park will being created in time for next year as part of the South Dorset Ridgeway Landscape Partnership Project managed by the Dorset AONB team. A new information point will give a glimpse of the area's prehistoric past.

Teams of volunteers will also help look after the site over the winter and there will be volunteer events for local people to lend a hand or with wildlife surveys.

Follow these simple guidelines when walking where cattle are grazing:

  • Keep dogs on lead and under close control
  • If you are threatened by cattle, release your dog so that you can both get to safety separately
  • Pick up dog poo, as it increases the fertility in the soil and can spread disease to animals and humans
  • Never get between cow and calf
  • Don't panic if cattle walk over. They are naturally inquisitive and may follow you, just remain calm, do not run but walk quickly and quietly around the herd
  • Do not let your dog get into water troughs as diseases can pass between grazing animals and dogs
  • Take notice of the signs as cattle will be grazing both side of the road

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