History of the herd
The grazing that the native, pure-bred Belted Galloway cows provide is essential to the conservation of the Gloucestershire grasslands. They produce the best possible conditions to help wildlife to flourish.
The dramtic decline in Cotswold limestone grassland is mostly down to the intensification of farming. To make land more profitable, many farmers changed to growing crops like wheat and barley. The lack of traditional grazing has allowed coarse grasses to take over, swamping low-growing grasses and herbs.
Grazing the slopes
Some important limestone grasslands haven't been grazed for decades with the grasses lacking many nutrients. These areas are often small and fragmented and in exposed locations with steep slopes making commercial grazing difficult.
Introducing the 'Belties'
Twenty years ago we decided to start our own herd of cattle. The herd would graze the tricky, exposed and nutritionally-poor grasslands. Not all cows are suited to these conditions, but luckily Belted Galloways are. They not only thrive on steep grasslands but are also incredibly hardy and perfectly suited to live out all year round.
We bought our first heifers, naming them Beatrice, Brandy, Zelda and Voy. Another heifer, Annie joined the group later in the year.
The first heifer calf was born to Annie at the Ebworth Centre, and was given the name Rodborough Thistle.
Beatrice, Brandy, Zelda and Voy all had calves, starting the suckler herd we have today. At the grand old age of 18, one of these calves,Vetch, is still in the herd today. We also bought five more heifers, taking the total to 15.
The herd has continued to grow, with 100 Belties happily munching their way around Gloucestershire's limestone grasslands.
" All of the cattle have their own personalities and quirks. We name them after flora and fauna and run through the alphabet so you might come across names like Lilac, Lime and Liquorice."
Grazing for nature
Limestone grasslands are made up of many different kinds of lime-loving plants including grasses, herbs, mosses and lichens that together provide a home for a variety of insects and birds. As many as 40 different plant species can be found in a single square metre.
Grazing is vital for conserving the unique flora and fauna of the limestone grasslands in Gloucestershire. The cows keep the grass at just the right height for wildlife to thrive.