Cattle in Hatfield Forest

Red poll cattle grazing on the main plain at Hatfield Forest, Essex

There is a long history of cattle grazing in the forest. We continue this tradition, with a twist, as the emphasis is now on conservation. In the summer, you will be able to see two herds of Red Poll cattle. They play an important role in maintaining the wood pasture. Although docile, the cattle still need to be treated with respect.

Step back into a medieval scene . . .

The forest has a long history of grazing, with evidence of Iron Age earth works which may have been animal enclosures. Whilst in the past many types of livestock have been grazed here, today we have cattle and sheep.

Between May and October you can see two herds of Red Poll cattle grazing at Hatfield Forest. The grazing herds, numbering around 120, belong to a local farmer and are grazed under license.  The first roams around the north east half of the forest, centred around Takeley Hill and Bush Plain, whilst the second wanders around the south west half of the forest, centred on the main plain.

Red Poll as a breed was created in the early 19th century, by crossing a Suffolk Dunn and a Norfolk Red, with a breed society established in 1888. While the forest has hosted grazing cattle of different breeds in the past, Red Poll were chosen for their docile nature and natural lack of horn.

Maintaining Rare Habitats

Cattle grazing is a crucial aspect of the conservation work to maintain Hatfield Forest. By grazing the open plains and mature coppice, they prevent areas growing up into young woodland, keeping a balance of habitats. Keeping areas of the forest as wood pasture (grass pasture with large trees, often pollards) maintains one of the rarest habitats in the United Kingdom. 

The particular eating action of cattle, with the tongue tearing vegetation, is one of the key reasons the forest turns yellow in May/June with huge numbers of buttercups. It also encourages the growth of wildflowers, including hounds tongue, with Hatfield Forest being known for a number of native orchids such as the pyramidal orchid.

Pyramidal orchid
Pyramidal orchid
Pyramidal orchid

Together we can help keep this tradition going.

Treat the cattle with respect

Whilst usually docile and inquisitive, the cattle need to be treated with respect. By following the countryside code and a few simple tips, we can all enjoy Hatfield Forest:

-    Never approach or try to touch the cattle.  This can upset them and may cause them to panic.
-    Always have your dog on a short lead around livestock. If cattle approach or give chase let the dog off the lead. It will be far easier for the dog to get away off lead.
-    Walk round the herd, never through it.  This will avoid causing distress to the cattle which could result in them chasing you. 
-    Always pick up your dog waste and dispose of it responsibly.  Cattle eating plastic bags or dog waste can be fatal.
-    Be aware that cattle have free roam across the forest, in wooded areas as well as the plain. 
-    Remember to close the gates you pass through, unless they are padlocked open. You will be helping us keep the bulls apart.

For more on the countryside code see the link

For more information on Red Poll Cattle please see the breed society website