Cattle grazing returns to Studland Heath

A red Devon cow wearing a GPS collar

Cattle have returned to Studland Bay after 80 years to help maintain a mosaic of habitats including bare patches of bare sand which supports a hosts of rare plants and animals.

Since the end of historic grazing, encroaching vegetation has reduced open areas from around 30 per cent to just two per cent – bad news for some of Studland’s most important species including sand lizards, smooth snakes, marsh clubmoss and the Purbeck mason wasp, and for overall biodiversity.

Now, the Dynamic Dunescapes Project is reversing the trend using  21st century technology to contain the cattle without the need for physical fences.

Our Red Devon cattle were bred to make the most of unforgiving landscapes
Red Devon cattle on Studland Heath
Our Red Devon cattle were bred to make the most of unforgiving landscapes

In summer 2021 a small herd of Red Devon cattle from the National Trust Studland herd began grazing the heath from June to around mid September.

The cattle graze an area in the middle of the heath well away from the beaches, sand dunes and other busy areas.

To contain the cattle each member of the herd is wearing a solar-powered GPS collar which prevents them moving outside a set area so that no fences will be needed with the exception of a stretch alongside the busy Ferry Road.

As cattle approach the virtual boundary they are alerted by a musical tone and if they persist, they are deterred by a weak electrical pulse.

A trial showed that the cattle associate the musical tone with the approaching boundary and quickly learn to turn back before crossing it. 

Smooth snakes like this female in the hands of a National Trust ranger are among rare reptiles which will benefit from more open areas to bask in
A smooth snake in the hands of a National Trust ranger
Smooth snakes like this female in the hands of a National Trust ranger are among rare reptiles which will benefit from more open areas to bask in

The system was developed by a company in Norway where it has been used on sheep and goats for about 10 years and the National Trust in Studland were the first in the world to use the technology with cattle.

As well as avoiding the need for obtrusive fences in a national nature reserve, the technology allows grazing to be targeted where it will have the most benefit so we can protect sensitive ecological features and exclude the cattle from busy areas.

The cattle are monitored by an independent vet, and our grazier checks the cattle every day that they are out on the heath.

Because the collars have GPS, we can track the animals and always know where they are, which saves time looking for them.

Each of the cattle has been hand picked for its calmness and docility, but we do ask the public to take care if they encounter cattle. 

Please:

  • Do not feed the cattle,
  • Keep dogs on short leads at all times where cattle are grazing and if cattle approach let your dog off the lead (see below),
  • Do not touch or pick up any equipment, or cattle collars due to the risk of electric pulse,
  • Pick up and remove dog mess and litter.

If you have any concerns about the welfare of individual cattle, please contact 01929 450500 or email studlandbay@nationaltrust.org.uk 

FAQs 

Is there any danger to the public or dogs?

Incidents between the public and cattle are rare. Almost all problems happen when people walk dogs near cows with young calves, and none of the females in our trial herd will have calves to protect.

How should I behave around cattle?

Give them plenty of space, especially if you have a dog with you, and keep your dog on a short lead. Usually they will show little interest in dogs unless they feel cornered or threatened. If that happens, stay calm and let your dog off the lead. The cattle’s attention will be on your dog, not you, and your dog can outrun them with ease.

Will the grazing affect public access?

No. The technology we are using means there is no need for fences except one stretch alongside Ferry Road which will includes access gates.

How have the cattle been chosen?

The cattle have been selected from the Purbeck NT herd and are either females or castrated males (steers) of around three or four years old and have been individually selected for their calm and docile temperaments.

Are any of them bulls? Some of them have horns.

No. All the males chosen have been castrated and they are not aggressive. The Red Devon cattle in our herd, whether male or female, include horned and unhorned individuals due to genetic differences.

Why Red Devons?

Red Devon cattle have been part of the Studland landscape for generations since well before the National Trust began looking after the area in 1983. They are a hardy breed well suited to grazing the rough grasses and other vegetation found on heathland and among the dunes.

What will happen at the end of summer?

At the end of the summer the cattle will rejoin the main Studland herd which forms part of our conservation grazing programme at nearby Godlingston Heath.