Grazing trial at Dalditch Plantation
A herd of Devon Reds have been introduced to graze an area of the East Devon Pebblebed Heaths as part of a year long trial into sustainable land management.
Their hardiness and ability to graze on the heathland vegetation mean that the thirteen cattle will naturally open up important wet areas and reduce the height and density of scrub and new growth of birch and willow.
The lowland heaths in East Devon are among just a few remaining in Britain, making them rarer than tropical rainforests. They are home to a number of rare birds such as Dartford Warblers and Nightjars and special flora and fauna such as the insectivorous Butterwort
and Sundew plants. However, preserving the unique characteristics of the heathland depends on the continued management of the land; stopping trees re-establishing themselves and preventing gorses and bracken from taking over.
The twelve month trial at the Dalditch Plantation has been initiated by the East Devon Pebblebed Heaths Trust in conjunction with Natural England under the Higher Level Stewardship Scheme.
Commons Warden Bungy Williams said; "Until now we have mechanically managed the area with spraying and with machinery including tractors and cutters. Not only is this incredibly difficult in a wetland area, it is not as environmentally friendly as we would like which is why we are testing more sustainable methods, that are environmentally friendly and equally, if not more, effective. In just a few weeks, these heavy footed cattle have already opened up some of the wet areas."
Devon Reds or Red Ruby Devon's are a traditional breed which are recognised by conservation organisations as a preferred breed of cattle for grazing land with conservation value. According to the Devon Cattle Breeders Association, they are gentle, docile grazers.
On the Dalditch plantation, the animals are fenced in but walkers and horse-riders still have full access to the area, which has been made rider-friendly with the introduction of special bridleway gates.
Bungy Williams said; "We are very keen that people have free use of the area, as before, and at the same time they can see our grazing scheme at work."