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Cattle grazing and moorland management at Brimham Rocks

Cattle grazing on Brimham Rocks moorland
Belted galloway cattle grazing on Brimham's moor | © Paul Harris

Find out how our countryside team of staff and volunteers help to maintain and conserve the moorland at Brimham, from the trialling of different bracken control techniques to the introduction of certain breeds of cattle to graze the moorland vegetation.

Cattle grazing at Brimham

We've introduced cattle to graze the moorland at Brimham Rocks. The herd of Belted Galloways, a gentle but hardy breed, will graze the moorland vegetation to maintain a healthy habitat.

Grazing is an important part of moorland management. The cattle will graze and eat the young saplings to maintain a healthy, mixed-age structure of vegetation helping us to manage the moorland more effectively and sustainably.

To manage the cattle we've put up a fence around their roaming area on the south and north moors. To maintain Brimham moorland as open access land we've installed gates on public rights of way and stiles at access points along the boundary of the fence too.

There won’t be any livestock in the main visitor area or car parks.

"We're very excited to be reintroducing cattle to Brimham for conservation grazing. It's a very important step to improving the condition of the moor. The cattle will help to control the expansion of invasive birch saplings, trample bracken rhizomes and diversify the age structure of heather, allowing us to better preserve this rare habitat."

- Alec Boyd, Area Ranger Brimham Rocks

Cattle Grazing on Brimham Rocks North Moor
The Belted Galloways are gentle but hardy breed of cattle which will roam freely on the north and south moors | © Annapurna Mellor

Grazing will improve the habitat on Brimham Moor because the cattle will:

  1. Browse off the young birch saplings and the coarser grasses
  2. Maintain a varied structure of heather to improve the habitat for ground nesting birds
  3. Prevent the further growth of large trees which dry out the moor
  4. Introduce droppings and poach the ground to diversify the habitat for invertebrates
  5. Improve soil quality by increasing bacteria and fungi content

"We are using cattle instead of sheep or horses because the cattle rips and pulls rather than nibbles at the vegetation. They also eat on the move, a little here and a little there, and are less selective than sheep or horses – they aren’t as choosy about what they eat. This helps create a varied age structure that will benefit other species that call moorland their home."

- Alec Boyd, Area Ranger Brimham Rocks

The Belted Galloways chosen to graze the site are hard-mouthed and will browse as well as graze a variety of vegetation. They are a placid breed and importantly will not be fazed by members of the public and their dogs.

Finding the right balance

The cattle will only be on site for the summer months to begin with. The timing and intensity of the grazing may be altered as time goes on, to ensure that they are having the right impact. Getting the grazing levels right is going to be our biggest challenge.

We will carefully monitor the habitat throughout the years to come, to ensure that the cattle are having the desired effect. This may involve increasing or decreasing numbers where necessary, or moving the cattle around the site to target their grazing. We will find out more once we have installed the regime and will keep everyone informed as to any changes we may make in the future.

SSSI moorland conservation

Brimham Rocks is one of just over 4,000 sites nationwide that have been awarded the status Site of Special Scientific Interest’ (SSSI). Attributed by Natural England, this status is used to protect the natural, environmental or geological heritage of the British Isles from development, pollution or insensitive land management.

Sunrise at Brimham Rocks, North Yorkshire
Sunrise at Brimham Rocks | © National Trust Images/Paul Kingston

Being given this status is certainly a form of recognition of the uniqueness of the site, but also places a great deal of responsibility on the shoulders of the conservation staff who work here.

On a world scale, natural heather habitats are extremely rare: rarer than rainforest. According to the Moorland Association, 75% of the world's remaining heather moorland is found in Britain and that habitat has been declining rapidly.

Brimham moor has the particular distinction of being home to three local varieties: ling heather, bell heather and cross-leaved heath. With its rapid growth and extended root system, if left unattended, bracken would soon damage the heather moorland beyond repair.

Bracken control techniques

The countryside team of staff and volunteers perform regular trials of different bracken control techniques. A recent Higher Level Stewardship grant has made all the difference to the team’s ultimate success or failure in bracken control, as it has made possible the purchase of the necessary equipment.

A selective herbicide is used, which only harms bracken and dock. It thoroughly eradicates bracken at its root, resulting in seven to eight years of managed countryside. This makes it more difficult for the weed to re-establish a presence on the site and giving subsequent ‘natural’ methods of control, such as flailing and manual pulling, a much higher chance of success.

Our work to preserve this precious natural resource is always ongoing and we are always interested to hear from people interested in volunteering to help conserve this natural moorland habitat for generations to come.

Thank you

With your ongoing support, we're able to continue our vital conservation work. Thank you for helping to protect these special places.

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