The Box Moor Trust has not always kept its own stock, in fact in the 400 year history it is only within the last 40 years that the Trust’s own animals have been seen on the moors.
In the 1970’s to combat falling numbers of graziers’ animals on the moor, an arrangement was made with the Rare Breeds Survival trust to introduce the endangered breed of Shetland cattle to the moor. These proved unsuitable for various reasons and were gradually replaced by the Belted Galloways.
These cattle are a hardy, slow maturing breed from the Scottish Borders that suit the Trust’s purpose of maintaining the moors and commons as naturally as possible. With the policy of not using artificial fertilisers, chemical sprays or high performance feed, the cattle have to be a type that can withstand the more traditional methods of production
Some years ago, in order to maintain Roughdown Common’s remaining chalk grassland, a flock of primitive Soay sheep was purchased. Their deer like appearance and almost feral traits allowed them to adapt to the site and graze out the thatch in the winter months. In the summer they were moved to lower land between the canal and the railway. However, with the introduction of the Norfolk Horn sheep the remaining Soays are being allowed to see out their days of retirement in comfort in less demanding surroundings on the moor near the entrance to Westbrook Hay.
The latest arrivals to the Trust lands are the Norfolk Horns, introduced in 1993, when 2 sheep were purchased. The flock has grown to include 100 breeding ewes. These will take over the role as conservation tool from the Soays and become a major contributor in the management of Westbrook Hay Farm. The Norfolk is a horned, black faced sheep, prolific in East Anglia in the eighteenth century. With the changing needs of industrialisation in the nineteenth century, the breed all but died out. By 1965 there was one ram left at Whipsnade Zoo. From this lonely ram, through back breeding, the breed expanded to the present 800 ewes, 100 of which are owned by the Box Moor Trust.