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At Wandlebury Country Park the resident herd of Highland cattle are not only a great favourite with our visitors but they importantly play a valuable role in the maintenance and ecology of the park. Highland cattle were selected as they are a hardy British breed which copes well with year-round extensive grazing on unimproved grassland. With modern intensive farming practices favouring imported or commercial breeds of cattle here at CambridgePPF we feel maintaining a herd of native Highland cattle also helps preserve an important part of our cultural heritage.
The grazing of livestock has helped create the landscape we live in and many habitats such as grassland, heathland and wood pasture rely on grazing to survive. In fact, a large number of invertebrate species are dependent on grazing animals and the dung they produce. Studies have shown that over 250 insect species are associated with cattle dung which in turn provides a source of food for bats and birds who feed on the insects.
Maintaining the correct levels of grazing is key to achieving the maximum potential for biodiversity in the Wandlebury meadows. To get the right level, you may see the cattle moved around between fields depending on the time of year to prevent overgrazing, poaching and the build-up of excess nutrients. To help remove the excess nutrients deposited via the cattle’s waste, fields are left to grow ungrazed as part of a rotation until the summer when a hay cut is taken removing any excess nitrogen. This has the added benefit of allowing the grass and flower species to set seed maintaining a diverse sward whilst benefitting the bee and butterfly species that depend on the nectar they produce.
The cattle are free to roam the pastures they are in with minimal human intervention which allows them to exhibit their natural behaviour with sometimes comical results (scratchy time pic).
During last autumn, the warden team have worked hard to replace fencing and gates around the fields in order to keep the cattle secure and enable us to graze them in all the fields. They also improved the supply of water to troughs in Picnic Field too, making life easier for the cattle and reducing the Warden’s own workload.
In addition to seasonal tasks, the wardens here at Wandlebury Country Park maintain daily checks on the cattle to ensure the animals’ health and welfare by maintaining access to water, mineral licks and hay when the weather becomes cold.
A farm vet also undertakes annual checks on the herd but medication such as worming treatments are kept to a minimum as they can impact on the invertebrate species that depend on the cattle’s dung.
The current herd members are: – Ella, Flo, Hamish, Jaffa, Lily, Sammy and Pepper.