Cows - our conservation heroes

Sandscale Haws Cows grazing

Cows are our conservation heroes. Look out for them grazing the dune grassland as you walk around the reserve. Without them, the sand dunes would be covered in a thick blanket of scrub.

By eating the coarse grasses and young scrub like hawthorn, cows are helping us create space for the less competitive and sensitive plants and flowers around Sandscale Haws.

Letting cows graze, can mimic a more natural way of grassland management, providing different heights of grassland which can attract all kinds of insects and wildlife and can also prevent scrub such as bramble taking over a whole site.

Shorthorn Bull at Sandscale Haws
Sandscale Haws
Shorthorn Bull at Sandscale Haws

This 'conservation grazing' uses traditional breeds of cows such as Highland cattle and Galloways because they’re happy to eat some tougher, thornier plants and can survive quite happily all year round.

Managing grassland in such a natural way is good for both the cows and the sites and is a real science, with rangers working closely with National Trust tenant farmers to graze the right numbers of cattle in the right place and at the best time of year.

In the past, cattle sheep and horses have been used to graze the sand dunes at Sandscale and since they were introduced in medieval times rabbits have played an important role by grazing down the grass and bringing the mineral-rich sand to the surface during their burrowing.

Where the rangers have carried out grazing experiments they can see that the grass in areas which hasn't been grazed is thick and coarse but in those areas which have been grazed they are rich in wildflowers.

Each breed of cattle has a different sort of temperament and our tenant farmers carefully plan which animals they are going to choose to graze sites with lots of public access. Cows can be alarmed by dogs which are not under control so remember to keep your dogs on a lead around cattle.