Cattle grazing and our new invisible fencing on Headley Heath

Headley Heath is a very special place for nature and has been recognised as such both a nationally and at European level, being designated as a Site of Special Scientific Interest (SSSI) and a Special Area of Conservation (SAC). It's also well-loved by our visitors who particularly enjoy dog walking and horse riding as well as general recreation in a beautiful place.

A special place for nature

The specialist habitats and wildlife need to be grazed to maintain and enhance the abundance of plants and butterflies, but not everyone enjoys being close to the cattle. The other side of that coin is that some people love the cattle and struggle to find them on such a large site.

Our aim is to meet the needs of nature whilst offering our visitors the best possible experience.

Belted Galloway cattle – the gentle giants of the Heath

The cattle on Headley are provided by the Surrey Wildlife Trust and are ‘graded’ by them as being the most docile cattle which they own. The SWT go to great lengths to test the cattle before they go on the heath in order to ensure their good temperament and calm behaviour.

However, we appreciate that not everyone is a fan of the cattle, and also that for many different reasons people might wish to avoid areas where cattle might be grazing. Dividing the area up will allow the site manager to accurately control the level of grazing in each area as well and the timing of that grazing throughout the year, and also allow users of the site to avoid the cattle if they wish.

Compartment grazing

The obvious method of segregating cattle and people and providing more targeted grazing would be traditional fencing. However, it’s our aim to present Headley as a wild place, as free as possible from man-made intrusions so everyone can enjoy a natural landscape.

We're excited to be embracing new technology to meet these ambitions. A system of ‘invisible fencing’ will be installed, which will divide the site into three compartments. (See map)

  • The system works by burying cables along the edges of the areas which we wish to graze
  • These cables emit a noise which is picked up by collars that the cattle wear when they get within 3m of the cable
  • If they wander closer, and stray into the 'correction zone’, they receive a small electric shock which deters them in exactly the same way as traditional electric fencing
  • When the cattle are used to the system, they'll turn and walk away when they hear the noise. They very seldom actually get shocked.

This system should be fantastic. It will allow for a better, more targeted, system of conservation grazing across the site whilst not needing unsightly traditional fencing and gates across the heath.

There'll also be the added benefit that visitors will know where the cattle are so they can choose whether or not they want to see them. Maps showing the compartment will be in all the car parks and there'll be signs on the heath and on the gates when you enter the heath to show which compartment you are in.

Look out for more information on our notice boards.

Headley Heath cattle grazing location map (PDF / 0.7MB) download