Our work at Studland Bay
Studland Bay is a special landscape for many different reasons and our team works all year round to keep it that way. The team even includes Red Devon cattle, who have been reintroduced to help maintain Studland’s habitats. From countryside rangers and the ecology team to the visitor welcome and catering teams, it takes a lot of people – and animals – to protect these unique seaside habitats.
While the outdoor facilities team make sure the beach is safe and clean for visitors, the countryside rangers look after the national nature reserve. The rangers are responsible for conservation across the wide estate.
Much of what the rangers do is determined by our ecology team, who carry out ground-breaking work to ensure Studland’s special ecology is protected for future generations.
Meanwhile, our visitor welcome, catering and retail teams help everyone get the most from Studland Bay. Also, volunteers are at the heart of our conservation work, on the beach, in the countryside and as citizen scientists.
Reintroducing Red Devon cattle
Heath can be a difficult terrain, which means we rely on grazing animals to keep it from turning to scrub and woodland. Rabbits and deer both play their part. However, Red Devon cattle have recently been reintroduced to help maintain Studland’s mosaic of habitats for the first time in 90 years.
Without cattle grazing, encroaching vegetation has reduced the open area from around 30 per cent to just two per cent. This is bad news for some of Studland’s inhabitants, including sand lizards and smooth snakes, and overall biodiversity.
A small herd graze from May to October every year, keeping to an area in the middle of the heath, away from the busy beaches and sand dunes.
Containing the cattle
The Dynamic Dunescapes Project uses modern technology to contain the cattle and each member of the herd wears a solar-powered GPS collar. If they approach the virtual boundary, they’re alerted by a musical tone and, if they persist, they’re deterred by a weak electrical pulse.
Cattle associate the musical tone with the approaching boundary and quickly learn to turn back before crossing it. The system was developed in Norway, where it’s been used on sheep and goats for about 10 years.
Keeping the nature reserve fence free
The Trust in Studland were the first in the world to commercially use the technology with cattle. Using this technology means there’s no need for obtrusive fences in a nature reserve, apart from the stretch along the busy Ferry Road, while still protecting the cattle from busy areas.
It also allows grazing to be targeted to areas where it’ll have the most benefit, meaning we can protect sensitive ecological features.
Caring for the cattle
The cattle are monitored by an independent vet and our grazier checks them every day they are out on the heath – their search is made easier thanks to the cattle’s GPS collars.
Each of the cattle has been hand-picked for its calmness, but we ask the public to take care if they encounter cattle. Please follow this guide below.
- Do not approach or feed the cattle.
- Keep dogs on short leads where cattle are grazing and if cattle approach let your dog off the lead. Find out more on visiting Studland with your dog.
- Pick up and remove dog waste and litter.
- Do not touch any equipment or cattle collars, due to the risk of electric pulse.
Is there any danger to the public or dogs?
Incidents between people and cattle are rare. Almost all problems happen when people walk dogs near cows with young calves and none of the females in our herd have calves to protect.
How should I behave around the cattle?
Give them plenty of space, especially if you have a dog with you, and keep your dog on a short lead. Usually, they’ll 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’re using means there’s no need for fences except one stretch alongside Ferry Road, which includes access gates.
How have the cattle been chosen?
The cattle have been selected from the Purbeck National Trust herd and are either females or castrated males (steers). They’ve been individually selected for their calm and docile temperaments.
Are any of them horned bulls?
No. All the chosen males have been castrated and aren’t aggressive. Our herd of Red Devon cattle, whether male or female, include horned and unhorned individuals due to genetic differences.
Why Red Devons?
Red Devon cattle are a hardy breed well suited to grazing the rough grasses and other vegetation found on heathland and among the dunes.
What happens at the end of summer?
At the end of the summer the cattle return to the main Studland herd that forms part of our conservation grazing programme at nearby Godlingston Heath.
If you have any concerns about the welfare of individual cattle, please contact 01929 450500 or email firstname.lastname@example.org.
Caring for the heathland
Studland’s range of habitats include sand dunes, peat bog, alder and willow carr and freshwater lagoon. It’s also home to an internationally important example of lowland heath, which is a designated National Nature Reserve.
The existence of lowland heath is one of the best examples of humans interacting with the landscape for the benefit of nature. Since Neolithic times, people have grazed, cut and burned forest areas.
The acidic soils around Poole Harbour makes the ideal conditions for heather and other dwarf shrubs to thrive. These heaths are home to all sorts of wildlife, such as the protected nightjar bird and all six species of native British reptile, including the rare sand lizard.
Combatting declining heathland
Changes in farming and the loss of traditional rural ways mean that we’ve lost 80 per cent of our lowland heaths in this country over the past 200 years. Despite this, the UK is still home to 20 per cent of the world’s remaining heaths.
Nearly 1,000 hectares of some of the country’s best heaths are found in the Purbecks, split between Hartland Moor, Middlebere and Slepe Heath in the west and Studland and Godlingston Heaths in the east.
Protecting the heathland
Not only is the team looking after these sites in traditional ways, but we’re also working with other local landowners to restore more forestry and pastures to heathland. The long-term aim is to create one continual stretch of heath.
Our teams maintain areas of dense, mature shrubs in the heath, which are important for some insects and any animal seeking shelter, such as the smooth snake. However, we also know that a good heath is one with plenty of bare ground where animals can sun themselves or burrow into the ground.
Helping the wildlife
We also allow a bit of gorse scrub and a few trees to come in too, as this is appreciated by certain animals, especially nightjars and Dartford warblers.
Studland is also home to an usual habitant known as dune heath. With more than 75 hectares, it’s the largest area of dune heath on England’s south coast. Wildflowers thrive here in the summer, as do lichen and fungi as well as reptiles, birds and specialist invertebrates.
Super nature reserve
Studland is home to internationally important lowland heath, which is managed by the National Trust. In fact, we’ve joined forces with like-minded organisations to form the UK’s first ‘super' national nature reserve at the Purbeck Heaths.
This is a push to create a landscape where people and wildlife can thrive. The lowland heath at Studland features a range of habitats, such as sand dunes, peat bog, alder and willow carr as well as the Little Sea and heathland. It also holds all six species of reptiles that are native to Britain, including the rare sand lizard and smooth snake.
Fundraising to protect the coast
Our national coastal fundraising appeal was launched in 1965 and, more than half a century later, it’s the Trust’s longest running and most successful campaign.
The Trust looks after 750 miles of the UK’s most beautiful coastline. Since the campaign began, you’ve helped us raise more than £90 million, mainly through gifts, donations and legacies.
With your ongoing support, we're able to continue our vital conservation work. Thank you for helping to protect these special places.
We believe that nature, beauty and history are for everyone. That’s why we’re supporting wildlife, protecting historic sites and more. Find out about our work.
Find out about our research into how to re-introduce Eurasian beavers to Purbeck and why Little Sea near Studland Bay in Dorset is an ideal release site.
The coast is an everchanging environment, constantly being reshaped by the waves, winds and tides. Climate change is likely to increase the rate of coastal change that we experience at Studland. That is why it is important that we act now to understand how the coastline might change, and how we can best adapt to this change.
Discover how the Dynamic Dunescapes project will help to restore the habitats across the dunes, increasing biodiversity and wildlife at Studland Bay in Dorset.
Read about our strategy 'For everyone, for ever' here at the National Trust, which will take the organisation through to 2025.