The Box Moor Trust has not always kept its own stock, in fact in the 400 year history it is only within the last 50 years that the Trust’s own animals have been seen on the moors. In the 1980’s to combat falling numbers of graziers’ animals on the moor, the Trust introduced Belted Galloway cattle.
These cattle are a hardy, slow maturing breed from the Scottish Borders that suit the poor grazing available on the estate. Their striking white belt set against their black body has made them a firm favourite with locals and travellers along the A41.
In 1993 the Trust introduced a small flock of Norfolk Horn sheep, with the aim to assist in the conservation grazing programme. The flock has grown to over 100 sheep, and now include another traditional breed, the Ryeland; together they are a major contributor in the management of the important grasslands that make up large areas of the Trusts land.
Grazing animals help us to manage particular sites in the most effective and natural way possible.
Hundreds of years ago, people cleared the land of trees to form open spaces for farming. Their grazing animals helped to shape many of our semi-natural habitats, which developed rich and diverse wildlife communities. Our grassland, meadows, moorland habitats were all shaped by human activity and grazing is often the most effective and sustainable way to maintain them and their huge variety of plants and animals.
Stocking densities for conservation grazing are usually low and the timing and duration of grazing is carefully managed. Both over- and under-grazing will reduce the wildlife value of a habitat, so we aim to graze a site in a manner required to maintain or restore the habitats found there.
Livestock grazing has a less instantaneous impact than burning or cutting, so allows less-mobile wildlife to thrive. The grazing animals can also access areas that machinery can’t.
The choice of livestock used for conservation grazing is very important. Differences in feeding preferences, physiology and behaviour mean that different animals and breeds are needed to manage different habitats.
- Cattle use their tongues to wrap around and pull up tufts of vegetation, leaving uneven sward lengths and producing a tussocky field. They will eat longer, coarser grasses and push their way through scrub and bracken to create open spaces.
- Sheep prefer to nibble shorter grasses but will also select flower heads, which can result in a decrease in species diversity if not properly managed. Many traditional and hill breeds have a strong browsing requirement to their diet, so are good for scrub control. Their small size means they can access areas that machinery can’t.
- Ponies preferentially graze grasses and generally avoid eating flowering plants, allowing them to thrive and multiply. They will happily take plants that other animals would avoid – for example, New Forest ponies will eat large quantities of bracken in late summer, when it is less toxic.
- Heavier animals break up the ground and create bare areas for seeds to germinate. Hooves also haphazardly push seeds into the ground.
- Smaller breeds can access more difficult terrain, such as wet ground, where other breeds would cause damage or even get stuck.
The keeping of livestock can be a difficult but also rewarding task; the Box Moor Trust adheres to the “Five Freedoms” when managing their animals.
The Five Freedoms are:
1. Freedom from hunger and thirst – by ready access to fresh water and a diet to maintain full health and vigour
2. Freedom from discomfort – by providing an appropriate environment including shelter and a comfortable resting area
3. Freedom from pain, injury or disease – by prevention or rapid diagnosis and treatment
4. Freedom to express normal behaviour – by providing sufficient space, proper facilities and company of the animals’ own kind.
5. Freedom from fear and distress – by ensuring conditions and treatment which avoid mental suffering.
In taking account of these freedoms, those people who care for livestock should demonstrate:
- caring and responsible planning and management
- skilled, knowledgeable and conscientious stockmanship
- appropriate environmental design (for example, of the husbandry system)
- considerate handling and transport of animals, and
- humane slaughter.