Conservation grazing on Headley Heath

A small herd of nine Belted Galloway cattle (also known as the 'furry lawn-mowers') graze Headley Heath. They play an essential role in our year-round conservation programme for the heath.

A special place

Headley Heath is an ancient and rare landscape. Its unique combination of chalk downland, heaths and woodland is home to a range of rare and endangered flowers, insects, butterflies and birds. Much of the UK's heathland and chalk downland has been lost over the past century, and we are committed to retaining sites such as Headley Heath to preserve our national biodiversity.  

Historically such heaths were maintained through grazing by the animals of local villagers. The small herd of nine Belted Galloways does the same job today. The micro habitats they create cannot be replicated mechanically and so grazing the site is crucial. We are working in partnership with the Surrey Wildlife Trust Grazing Project who provide the cattle and manage them.

Mild mannered

The Belted Galloways are chosen for their docile nature and are tested before they go on the heath to ensure their good temperament and calm behaviour. They usually will keep together as a group and are not dangerous to dogs or people. However, like most cattle, they are curious and so may watch you as you pass but are unlikely to come close. 

Do remember that they are livestock; they are not tame. If you find yourself near them, walk calmly past and put all dogs on lead. Do  not go up close to them or touch them, for fear of frightening them.

Grazing zones

So we can maintain Headley Heath as a natural landscape, we are managing the cattle within three zones through invisible electric fencing. The cattle wear collars which discourage them from crossing between areas. 

  • The system works through cables buried along the edges of the grazing areas. If the cattle get within 3m of the cable, the system will emit an alarm noise 

  • If they wander closer, straying into the 'correction zone’, they will experience a small 'buzz' through the collars which will deter them in the same way as traditional electric fencing

  • The cattle were acclimatised to the system before they were returned to the heath. When they hear the noise they will turn away. If there is any problem, our ranger can turn off the fence current. 

There are signs on site and the website informing visitors where the cattle are, so you can avoid those areas if you wish. The areas are marked by the signs on the gates and small colour-coded markers delineating the areas - purple for Area A, red for Area B and green for area C. The markers can be seen along the Firebreak  (separating areas A and C) and the path from the main carpark down to the Pyramids and then across Dean Wood Heath (separating area B from A and C).