National Trust calls on its 100-strong mowing team to help boost nature in landscape scale project
- 09 May 2023
Spanning more than 21,000 hectares, the Stroud Landscape Project in Gloucestershire is making more space for nature through a network of wild places that are bigger, better joined up and more resilient to climate change.
With the aim of making the landscape richer for nature, while also producing good quality food, the National Trust’s secret grass roots weapon is a 100-strong herd of Belted Galloway cattle that are helping to make this vision a reality through conservation grazing.
The conservation charity is working closely with landowners, environmental bodies, local councils and communities to create a dynamic and thriving landscape of connected habitats throughout the Stroud Valleys and along the Cotswold escarpment, supporting nature’s recovery and confronting the climate emergency.
The project which started in 2017 has already seen wildflower grasslands flourishing, ancient woodlands being restored, wildlife corridors established and lost species reintroduced such as the large blue butterfly.
Over the next three years more havens for wildlife will be created and restored across 320 hectares, and this autumn 1,140 metres of new hedgerows will be planted at Boundary Court and on the Ebworth estate.
Restoring the grasslands in the Cotswolds is at the heart of the work here. Grazing and cutting are crucial for the maintenance of this important habitat, as is recreating traditional hay meadows that support native flower species.
Belted Galloways, or ‘Belties’ as they are affectionately called, are experts at grazing steep slopes and devouring grasses many other animals would find less palatable. With their help, delicate plants and herbs such as marjoram, thyme, vetches and rare orchids are thriving, along with a wide range of wildlife such as Duke of Burgundy butterflies and greater horseshoe bats.
Deployed at just the right time and in the right numbers, Belties graze and manage the grasslands, and depending on the wildlife to be encouraged they can leave the grass long or short – acting as natural lawnmowers, and also fertilisers.
A new member of the National Trust’s conservation grazing herd is having a real impact – both on the herd itself and also on wildlife and the wider environment.
This spring, a young pedigree Belted Galloway bull called Charlie (official name ‘HillGill Charlie’) is joining the Stroud Landscape Project mowing team. Charlie is not only calm and handsome but also red and white as opposed to the more familiar ‘humbug’ striped black and white of a Beltie. And studies are revealing how this simple change can have a positive long-term impact on the herd and the environment.
Matt Watts, National Trust Farm Manager said, “We’re already seeing hotter, drier summers as a result of climate change. There have been a lot of studies on heat stress and coat colour in livestock, with lighter coated cattle proven to cope better with the heat, so this year we took the decision to buy a red and white bull.
“Charlie is settling in well and we’ll see his first offspring next spring. In the future we hope to have a future-proof conservation grazing herd, and one that is key to the way we managed and maintain this wilder, species-rich landscape.”
Some of the Belted Galloway conservation herd have now moved into Woodchester Park as part of the Stroud Landscape Project’s ambitious nature recovery plans. Here, one of Belties’ vital roles is to support the colony of rare greater and lesser horseshoe bats whose summer roost is in Woodchester Mansion at the heart of the park.
Grazing Belties not only encourage more natural grassland but also more dung beetles and insects. And with most of the baby bats or ‘pups’ being born in early July and flying and foraging within 30 days, a good source of dung beetles and flying insects is crucial for them at this early stage.
The bats then feed on a range of insects throughout the year, including crane flies as well as beetles and flies associated with cow pats.
Bat expert Dr Roger Ransome has been studying the bats around Woodchester for an incredible 65 years and is advising the National Trust Stroud Landscape Project team.
At 45 days, the young bats can travel up to three kilometres, and adult bats also feed over some distance, so it is important that the landscape around Stroud includes a mosaic of suitable foraging habitat connected by hedgerows and wood edges. To help the bats even more, the National Trust team are avoiding using chemical worming treatments on the cattle.
At Woodchester Park, plans to accelerate the restoration of nearly 48 hectares of mainly former conifer plantations to species-rich grassland and native woodland are well underway. Targeted grazing, hay cutting regimes and wildflower seeding will all play their part.
David Armstrong, Stroud Landscape Project Delivery Manager said, “Our climate is changing at a faster rate than ever, and nature is in trouble. The challenge ahead is huge and complex, but the Stroud Landscape Project is confronting the climate and nature emergencies head-on. The solutions can be simple, and many are very much within our grasp – we need to create havens for wildlife that boost biodiversity.”
The Trust’s Stroud Landscape Project works with partners including private landowners and farmers, Gloucestershire Wildlife Trust, Natural England, Butterfly Conservation and Cotswold National Landscape.
Jennifer Gilbert, Cotswold Landscape Office for Butterfly Conservation said, “A combination of the Stroud Landscape Project’s conservation grazing herd of Belted Galloway cattle and practical habitat management led by our Gloucestershire branch of volunteers is ensuring that the grassland at our Rough Back reserve stays in good condition and continues to support the more common and the rarest of inhabitants.”
With a network of public footpaths giving access across the Trust’s Stroud landscapes – from Woodchester Park, Coaley Peak and the Ebworth estate to the commons – wild places and wildlife can be enjoyed by everyone.
Mark Funnell, Communications and Campaigns Director at the National Trust commented: “This is exactly the type of project that we need to see more of across the country to help Save our Wild Isles. Nature is in trouble. As a country we have fallen behind in caring for nature with 38 million birds vanishing from UK skies over the past 50 years, 97 per cent of our wildflower meadows lost since the 1930s and a quarter of our mammals at risk of extinction.
“We need nature – and nature needs us.
“We know that by working with others it is far easier to scale up our fight to tackle the nature crisis – and it is through projects like these that you can often see quick results that not only benefit nature – but people too.
“We have big ambitions along with many in the sector to do all that we can to reverse nature decline so that we can see vast improvements by 2030. If we can encourage other landowners to knit together pockets of land in similar ways – appropriate to their particular land types and nature needs – there is definitely all to play for in terms of nature recovery over the next seven years.”