Wild Ennerdale and the Black Galloway cattle

Black Galloway cow, Ennerdale, Cumbria

Well, I really hit the jackpot with this assignment! Go to Ennerdale for the day they said, learn all about the Black Galloway cattle they said, to be honest I was already sold on the idea, but then the day in question came around and bingo, after one of the worst winter’s on record we were blessed with a dazzlingly beautiful day.

On arrival I was bowled over by the sparkling lake and the impressive fells, but in the back of my mind I was thinking ‘so where are these cows then?’

Spring sunshine glitters on Ennerdale
A bright sunny spring day in Ennerdale, Cumbria
Spring sunshine glitters on Ennerdale

First things first

Every story needs a little context and Project Officer Rachel filled us in.

Wild Ennerdale is an agreement between the valley’s landowners (principally the National Trust, the Forestry Commission and United Utilities, along with Natural England as an advisor) to manage the landscape as a whole and not just as its constituent parts, allowing for bigger-picture thinking and trialling new approaches to land management.

The name ‘Wild Ennerdale’ came about through asking those people who actually visit the valley how they felt about the place. Turns out they love its remoteness and peace, that there are no loos or cafes or any real intrusion of the outside world and I’d have to agree - nice job people! So the term ‘wild’ in ‘Wild Ennerdale’ was perfect for the partnership and this was back before ‘re-wilding’ became a trendy buzz word.

" we are not trying to turn the clock back, our aim is to adjust the balance, intervene less to give more opportunities for nature"
- Rachel Oakley, Wild Ennerdale Project Officer

Ok, but what about the cows?

We walked from Bowness Knott car park along the northern side of the lake, across the bridge and into Silver Cove. No cattle in sight.


However, back in 2006 nine Black Galloway cattle were introduced, as a trial, to roam free in 145 hectares (that’s nearly 360 acres) of land in this section of the valley bottom. Within their specific boundaries they are free to roam which means they can respond to weather, grazing and their own instincts, creating a habitat mosaic (yes I learnt that term on my trip and now I feel just a tiny bit smug) which is much more natural.

Through the trees of Silver Cove
View through trees at Silver Cove, Ennerdale, Cumbria
Through the trees of Silver Cove

Seems a bit far away from any farms

Local farmer Richard, appears to have his head screwed on. His herd are as close to a wild herd as our British farming system will allow which means they require less input from him.

Their welfare is paramount and they are cared for (medical treatments if necessary, worming etc) and checked regularly. However, they are outside all year round (so no need for housing), they need no supplementary feeding (except hay if snow-cover prevents grazing and nutritional energy blocks in winter) so essentially no food bills - at a guess they’re probably cheaper to keep than a couple of teenagers.

And I hear told that this means Richard gets to spend more time with his family, win win!

Ten years on

I think it is safe to say that the trial has gone well. There are now 3 herds with 34 cattle in total that range over 1000 hectares of land from the forest slopes to the valley bottom. They all have names apparently and at this point I felt if I ever saw one, I’d definitely want to be introduced!

But what’s wrong with sheep?

Sheep farming has a long tradition in the Lakes but the characterful short-legged cattle claim a Celtic heritage and in a less controlled environment you might expect a wider range of grazing animals to be present.

Cattle, unlike sheep, are less likely to access the higher slopes of the valley sides which means those areas are able to grow freely, providing more habitats for other plant and animal species. Or put another way, they’re more ‘terrain challenged’ than sheep.

I have to say though, my first sight of the black beasts was when I glanced up and saw a small gathering on the slopes above my head, quietly chewing and watching us. I clambered my way up to get closer to them, fearing this would be my only photo opportunity (I was wrong).

Black Galloway group enjoys the sunshine
Black Galloway cattle on Ennerdale fellside, Cumbria
Black Galloway group enjoys the sunshine

 

What lies beneath my feet?

I noticed as I went up the slope that I needed to take a bit of care where I was putting my feet as the ground was very uneven. A large herbivore, such as the Black Galloway, has not so much the ‘X Factor’, but the ‘D for disturbance’ factor!

The churning of the ground, which goes along with 500kg of shaggy black cow rambling around, is the key to facilitating a change in vegetation. The ground is able to ‘scrub up’ (technical term that apparently has nothing to do with going out for the evening!) and new, often endangered species, can move back in.

Since the cattle have been introduced in Ennerdale there has been a return of native populations of the Marsh Fritillary butterfly and the Devil’s Bit Scabious, tangible evidence of the benefits this approach has triggered.

Black Galloways rock!

I needn’t have worried about not seeing the Galls again (see what I did there?) as they seemed to be with us for the rest of the day, even gate-crashing our important site meeting, er, well, lunch in the sunshine!

It's a tough job, honest!
Three people enjoy an open air lunch meeting, Ennerdale
It's a tough job, honest!

If you go to Ennerdale, to walk, cycle or commune with cows (and I would definitely recommend it) make sure your route takes you to ‘Moo Moo Bridge’, it’s another result of the Black Galloways of Ennerdale and it’s a delight.

The Galloways inspired local children
Galloway Bridge plaque Ennerdale, Cumbria
The Galloways inspired local children

The last word

Oh, and by the way, as for other re-introductions that you may have heard about, there are no plans to re-introduce Lynx into Ennerdale whatever you may have read in the papers!

Learn more about Ennerdale’s Black Galloways