Cows in Woolacombe dunes

Woolacombe sand dunes cows

We've successfully introduced a trial of the innovative invisible fencing technique, along with ten North Devon Red cattle, to help improve our plant and wildlife species in the sand dunes at Woolacombe beach.

Why did we use cows to graze the sand dunes?

The project using North Devon Red cows to graze the sand dunes at Woolacombe was driven by the aim to provide a space for nature, a space for wild flowers and fine grasses that support pollinators, invertebrates, reptiles, amphibians and birds - part of the Trust’s aim to manage our own land for the benefit of nature and restore the health of the countryside to bring back the wildlife.

Historically the sand dunes had been managed by man, using mechanical techniques (ie mowers) to manage scrub and improve the habitat.

With no ecosystem engineers (like the North Devon Red ladies) capable of breaking up the dense bramble at the Warren, and it being isolated from other healthy habitats to support it, it was unlikely the habitat would build itself into anything rich and diverse, a habitat that benefits wildlife and human well-being. The Aquatic Training Centre at Woolacombe, where tens of thousands of US troops trained in preparation for D-Day, was probably the greatest influence on the current state of the habitat.

A new technology, invisible fencing, allowed us to look at how we could use cows to break up the scrub in a manner which would help improve conditions for the species that need a helping hand. The North Devon Red cows graze the scrub erratically, creating a range of height and variety in the plant life, in a more gentle way than mowing. This helps to generate a rich and sustainable environment with a variety of habitats for wildlife, as well as opening up more space for plant life we want to encourage.

The cows being moved into their new home for the winter
Cows in Woolacombe dunes group
The cows being moved into their new home for the winter

How does invisible fencing work?

Woolacombe Warren is a beautiful landscape, a stimulating and inspiring place to visit. We needed a way of protecting this valuable view whilst still introducing the cattle that would bring the warren to life. This is where invisible fencing was trialled. The invisible fence means no gates, no stiles and no obtrusive fences, meaning easy access for visitors and the stunning rolling dunes would keep their character. The ladies grazing the dunes have been fitted with collars that respond to a radio signal emitted by a cable buried around the dunes. When approaching the cable an alarm sounds on the collar and our clever cows have been trained to know if they continue any further they will receive a pulse from the collar to deter them from continuing any further. The cows really got the hang of this and rarely tested the boundaries beyond the alarm bell. Looking after the cattle and ensuring their wellbeing was top priority, so veterinary observation was carried out throughout the trial of this innovative fencing and there continues to be no cause for concern. 

North Devon Red cattle in the dunes overlooking Woolacombe
Cows in Woolacombe dunes close up
North Devon Red cattle in the dunes overlooking Woolacombe

What have been the results of these lovely ladies grazing the dunes?

The cows grazing Woolacombe Warren achieved more than we could have hoped for during this modest trial on 6 hectares of the warren, so we’re excited to see what comes to the light this spring. Only grazed here for the winter, the cattle will be taken off the dunes in early March. It has been great for the cows, avoiding being kept indoors all winter and being able to reside in a dry environment with fresh low rougher forage that North Devon Red cattle are known to thrive on. So it has been a win for farming and a win for nature.