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Our work in the Woolbeding countryside

A small church surrounded by trees in the rolling green hills of the Woolbeding Countryside
Woolbeding Church in the Woolbeding Countryside | © National Trust Images/Jo Hatcher

From livestock grazing to maintaining a historical field of lupins, our work in the Woolbeding countryside is all about creating a harmonious landscape for nature to thrive and people to enjoy.

Conservation grazing

One of the most effective and natural ways to maintain grassland and heathland habitats – as well as ensure the survival of rare and threatened wildlife – is to lightly graze cattle and sheep on the land.

A system of targeted grazing is used here whereby the cows and sheep graze a particular area for a short period before being moved to another spot. This cycle of grazing allows disturbed areas to exist alongside ungrazed patches, which leads to a greater diversity of habitats.

Allowing a variety of animals to graze in this way replicates how ancient wild species like European bison, tarpan (wild horse) and aurochs (wild ox) would have roamed across Europe thousands of years ago. Their different methods of grazing and disturbance would have created a complex mosaic of habitats.

How does it work?

Grazing animals are quite selective in what they eat. Sheep are more fussy than cows who eat a wider variety of common plant species, and it’s this that allows more delicate plants to grow, thereby increasing biodiversity.

A mixture of sheep and cattle is used at Woolbeding because of the different ways they remove and eat the vegetation. Cows use their tongues to graze, wrapping it around plants and grasses and pulling it up. Together with trampling the ground, this helps create a variety of different plant heights and micro habitats.

Sheep graze using their front teeth to cut the plants which creates a uniform height, often just above ground level. This means that using both sheep and cattle together leads to a greater diversity of plant heights and structure which, in turn, creates an ideal habitat for a wide range of plants, animals and insects.

How is it managed?

Both over grazing and under grazing can be damaging to habitats, so it’s quite a skill to ensure effective and beneficial grazing regimes. Here native breeds – Belted Galloways, Sussex cows and Herdwick sheep – have been chosen for their hardiness to the climate as well as their eating habits. You can see where grazing is working well as there are more flowering plants along with the constant buzz of insects and birdsong in summer.

Two belted Galloway cows sitting in green vegetation looking towards the camera
Belted Galloways | © National Trust Images / Fiona Scully

Traditional breeds

Belted Galloway cows

This is a very adaptable breed, originally from Galloway in Scotland, and very suited to being outdoors all year round. It has a thick undercoat and long wavy overcoat that sheds rain well, helping it survive in the wettest conditions. They do well on coarse grasses and eat a wide range of plants. They're a very attractive cow with its striking white belt. The original Galloway cow is all black and no one is certain how the white belt came about. It’s believed it resulted from crossing the ancient Galloway cow with the Dutch belted cow, the Lakenvelder.

Sussex cows

It’s thought that today’s breed of Sussex cow is descended directly from the red cattle that inhabited the Weald at the time of the Norman Conquest. They are a beautiful deep red chestnut colour their hari grows dense and wavy in winter, in contrast to their fine and sleek summer coat. They do well on low-quality vegetation and are happy being kept out all year.

Herdwick sheep

This hardy breed from the Lake District has a dense, grey fleece and distinctive chunky legs. Their fleece is very oily with a high kemp and lanolin content, making it extra waterproof and warm. They’re well suited to low-quality forage, cope well in extreme weather and have a strong ‘hefting’ instinct. ‘Hefting’ is the term given to small flocks of sheep that, through mother–lamb generations, learn which section of unfenced grazing to stay within. They are good browsers and are happy eating brambles and more scrubby vegetation.

Not just grazing

Grazing alone is often only part of management needed to prevent scrub taking over. We also rely on volunteers to clear gorse, thorn and birch scrub that can quickly take over large areas.

Lupins at Terwick Church

The church field at Terwick is much loved for its striking display of colourful lupins each year. It’s a beautiful and unusual sight and one that takes careful management by the National Trust to ensure it reappears in all its glory year after year.

The field is managed in a similar way to a hay meadow: a cut is taken late in the year – once the lupins have seeded – before the grass is baled and removed. Russell mix lupin seeds are sown into the bare ground in spring.

Along with the lupins, the field has become a naturalised meadow with wild grasses, ox-eye daisies, poppies, vetch and meadow cranesbill self-seeding and flourishing among a more formal and farmed surrounding landscape.

You can take a stroll through the field and enjoy the quiet calm and tranquil beauty. You might even spot a harvest mouse darting in the undergrowth.

Natural Health Service

To care for the field we work with the Coastal West Sussex Mind group, a local independent mental health charity. They offer mental health services and support to anyone affected by mental health problems. Working on the land helps alleviate some of the impacts of depression and promotes a sense of wellness.

How did the lupins get here?

The field was originally planted by Reverend Laycock who spent 40 years using it as a market garden. It was later given to Mrs Jane Patterson Hodge who adored the view. The surrounding fields are arable farmland so she wanted to ensure that the view was protected and the lupins would continue to flower.

She gifted the field to the National Trust in 1938 with the condition that lupins were grown in part of the field. The Trust accepted the gift with the promise of growing lupins as Mrs Hodge had wished. Over the decades the National Trust has worked with the Rogate community and the local farmer to ensure new seed is planted and the number of lupins is maintained.

A row of poplar trees with dense woodland behind

Discover more at Woolbeding Countryside

Find out how to get to Woolbeding Common, where to park, the things to see and do and more.

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