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Conservation grazing at Scotney Castle

Scotney Castle Sussex cow feasting on blackthorn
Caught in the act. Scotney Castle Sussex cow feasting on blackthorn | © Sam Milling

Learn how Scotney Castle and Kent Wildlife Trust are working together to help improve biodiversity in Scotney's SSSI parkland.

Caring for the countryside

Scotney is a designated Site of Special Scientific Interest (SSSI) and we're delighted welcome cattle back to the estate as part of our countryside management and regeneration programme.

We're working with leading conservation charity, Kent Wildlife Trust who have provided a herd of16 native-breed cattle: 10 Longhorn and 6 Sussex. The cattle will help improve and maintain the grassland of Scotney's North Park area through conservation grazing.

What is conservation grazing?

Over time, grassland can start to be overtaken by coarse scrubby vegetation, such as gorse, bramble and bracken, which prevents more desirable plants and grasses from thriving, reducing biodiversity.

In low densities cattle, using their ‘twist and pull’ grazing technique, remove coarser, unwanted vegetation creating space for more diverse plant life. The cattle get a greater choice of food which improves their well-being, biodiversity increases and the habitat becomes more stable and more climate-resilient.

The Scotney herd

The Scotney herd is currently made up of Longhorns and Sussex, both traditional native breeds.

Longhorn cattle are one of the bigger native breeds, with unique markings and horns. Originally a slow, heavy draft animal, they have a placid temperament and enjoy eating a varied diet including buddleia, bramble, hawthorn and gorse, making them excellent conservation cattle. Using their weight and horns they break through dense vegetation such as large blocks of bramble like four-legged bulldozers.

Sussex cattle are a rich red colour and have a good temperament. They were bred to pull a plough in the wet, woody ground of the Kent and Sussex weald and are exceptional at clearing reeds, willow, young scrub and brambl. They do enjoy a paddle when they get a chance so are perfect for the land at Scotney.

Cow trackers

You may spot some of the cattle wearing what look like an old-fashioned cow bell. These in fact are GPS tags. The tags are designed to monitor livestock herd movement and to create virtual fences. At Scotney, the ranger team use them to help locate the cattle in the parkland - very handy for the morning checks when we make sure they are all fit and well.

English Longhorn grazing in evening light
English Longhorn grazing in evening light | © Rob Coleman

Sharing the land: behaviour on the estate

  • Keep dogs on leads in fields and parkland - Scotney is a working estate and you may encounter livestock in various locations.
  • Leave all gates as you find them to prevent livestock escaping or being cut off from their water supply.
  • Keep a minimum 10m distance from grazing animals.
  • Do not allow children or dogs to approach or chase the livestock, and do not approach them yourself.
  • Do not feed the cattle or try to pet them.

The cattle are checked daily, but if you spot livestock that are ill, injured, escaped or at risk of escape, please call the 24-hour emergency phoneline: 07796 171 499.

A Pedigree History

Sussex cattle have long been a mainstay at Scotney. Notes written by Edward Hussey III detail the arrival of the first herd to Scotney in 1896, and Christopher Hussey was a keen stocksman winning many awards with his prize-winning Sussex cattle. Take a look at some of the items recording this history from the archive images below.

Detail from a handwritten note about the new herd of cattle at Scotney dated 1896.
From the Scotney archive - details from 1896 handwritten note regarding the arrival of the new herd of cattle. | © Scotney team

Detail from 1896 handwritten note

Handwritten note from the Scotney archive: Edward Hussey III's note detailing the arrival of the first Scotney herd in 1896.

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A view of Scotney Castle

The history of Scotney Castle 

Discover the long and rich history of Scotney Castle and its journey with the Hussey family from moated castle to idyllic country estate.

A Scotney Castle volunteer gardener in the herbaceous border at the old castle

Volunteering at Scotney Castle 

Join the volunteer team at Scotney Castle and help to make a real difference to this special place whilst learning new skills and making friends.

View across the valley with the picturesque Scotney Castle in Kent in the foreground and the Victorian country house beyond

Scotney parkland trail 

Follow the trail to discover historic parkland, take in the view of Scotney Castle and discover fascinating features of the Scotney estate in Kent.

DistanceMiles: 2 (km: 3.2)
A black and white archive photo of hop pickers working around a hop crib next to the bines, from a collection at Scotney Castle, Kent

Memories of the Kent hop fields 

Growing and harvesting hops is a big part of the Scotney Castle estate’s history. Discover Anne’s story, who picked hops nearby in the 1950s.