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Our work at the Dolmelynllyn estate

Highland cattle conservation grazing at Coed Ganllwyd in the Dolmelynllyn Estate, Wales. Highland cattle in the woods at Coed Ganllwyd in the Dolmelynllyn Estate, Wales .
Highland cattle in the woods at Coed Ganllwyd in the Dolmelynllyn Estate, Wales . | © National Trust Images/Malcolm Davies

Discover how we’ve made changes to the way the countryside in our care is managed. Using Highland cattle to carry out conservation grazing has given woodlands at Dolmelynllyn a new lease of life.

A special place

In the 1970s the woodlands within Dolmelynllyn Estate were designated as a Site of Special Scientific Interest (SSSI) and National Nature Reserve (NNR). The woodlands were fenced off and all grazing livestock were removed.

Working in partnership

For 40 years the woodlands remained untouched from grazing which resulted in overgrowth making the condition of the SSSI and NNR less favourable for plants and wildlife.

We’ve worked in partnership with Natural Resources Wales (NRW) to come up with a different approach to managing the area to improve the condition and biodiversity of the space.

Longhorn Highland cattle

In 2015 we introduced three longhorn Highland Cattle to Coed Ganllwyd. They’re a hardy breed of cattle with long horns and golden wavy coats. The cattle were needed to graze tough brambles and saplings on the ground so that other vegetation could have a chance to flourish.

Conservation grazing

The horns of the cattle can be used to grab low branches to graze the leaves. This means that more light can reach the woodland floor. If the light reaches the tree trunks this will encourage lichens to grow. The rangers have also been doing a lot of felling work to allow more light onto the ground and as a result we’ve seen more ground flora including wild garlic and bluebells.

Increasing biodiversity

By increasing the diversity of the habitat in turn this will improve the range of wildlife that use the area. Since conservation has been in place we have seen an increase in a wide variety of wildlife including birds, butterflies and insects.

Highland cattle contribute to conservation grazing by eating leaves from tree branches at Killerton Estate, Devon
Highland cattle contribute to conservation grazing by eating leaves from tree branches at Killerton Estate, Devon | © National Trust Images/Fi Hailstone

Results will take time

The work has focussed on the habitat condition rather than a particular species, as a result many species will benefit but it will take time to see the results clearly, especially with slow-growing lichen species.

Rare lichens

It’s important to conserve rare species for biodiversity, Dolmelynllyn is home to many rare lichens and bryophytes. The habitat condition for rare lichens has improved in the area which is crucial for the Tree Lungwort lichen. Lichen are often eaten by insects, birds and mammals. They also provide shelter for insects and nest material for birds.


Other species which rely on these ancient oak woodlands being in a healthy condition are birds including redstart, pied flycatcher and pine marten.

More opportunities

Recently the cattle were moved to Coed y Gamlan, near Rhaeadr Ddu. Here they will continue to graze the woodland and reduce the scrub.

We’ve now been given the go ahead by NRW to add cattle to two more woodlands on the estate. Once the cattle have helped to clear the thicker brambles we can continue grazing the woodland areas with sheep from local tenant farmers.

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