Highland cattle are grazing a trail for wildlife at Whitwell Common


Highland cattle are grazing a trail for wildlife at Whitwell Common
  1. Highland cattle are grazing a trail for wildlife at Whitwell Common
    edp24.co.uk
    The arrival of Highland cattle on a little-known Norfolk nature reserve marks the culmination of a conservation ambition which began more than 20 years…
    Agriculture 
  • Chris Hill
  • chris.hill@archant.co.uk
  • @ChrisHill75
12 August, 2017 - 07:00

The arrival of Highland cattle on a little-known Norfolk nature reserve marks the culmination of a conservation ambition which began more than 20 years ago.

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Highland cattle have been released onto Whitwell Common, as their grazing will help preserve the fens rare plant life. Pictured: members of the Whitwell Common Trustees are joined by local parishioners to celebrate. Picture: Chris Hill.Highland cattle have been released onto Whitwell Common, as their grazing will help preserve the fen's rare plant life. Pictured: members of the Whitwell Common Trustees are joined by local parishioners to celebrate. Picture: Chris Hill.

Ambling off a livestock trailer onto lush, inviting grass, these Highland cows certainly seem happy enough with their new home.

But they’re blissfully unaware of the importance of their role – or the decades of effort which have led to this moment.

The two animals are grazing on Whitwell Common, near Reepham, as part of a partnership project aimed at conserving the special characteristics of this valley mire, which supports a host of rare orchids and plants.

Despite their size, the hardy Highlanders are light on their feet and not fussy about their diet, which makes them perfect for clearing the scrub which threatens to encroach onto the open fen, without destroying the ground which blooms into all kinds of colourful rarities in the summer.

Highland cattle have been released onto Whitwell Common, as their grazing will help preserve the fens rare plant life. Picture: Chris Hill.Highland cattle have been released onto Whitwell Common, as their grazing will help preserve the fen's rare plant life. Picture: Chris Hill.

But there were many obstacles to clear before the cattle could carry out this valuable work.

As most of this Site of Special Scientific Interest (SSSI) is registered as an ownerless common, it falls to Norfolk County Council to advise on its management as part of a small committee including the Whitwell Common Trustees group and Natural England.

To build the necessary fencing on common land, special approval was needed from the environment secretary – a lengthy process that involved a formal consultation process as well as discussions with local people and the Open Spaces Society.

Once this was secured, the project team could apply for a £25,000 Biffa Award grant, funded under the landfill tax credit scheme, to pay for 1.2km of fencing to enclose five hectares of the 20ha common, install gates for public access, and dig out the existing ditch system to help control water levels.

Highland cattle have been released onto Whitwell Common, as their grazing will help preserve the fens rare plant life. Pictured: Ecologist Ed Stocker, who manages the reserve. Picture: Chris Hill.Highland cattle have been released onto Whitwell Common, as their grazing will help preserve the fen's rare plant life. Pictured: Ecologist Ed Stocker, who manages the reserve. Picture: Chris Hill.

All this work needed to be overseen and approved by Natural England officer Nik Bertholdt, who is responsible for the condition of the SSSI.

The arrival of the cattle marked the culmination of this effort – and the final realisation of an ambition which dates back more than 20 years.

“It is really emotional, actually,” said Lin Garland, chair of the Whitwell Common Trustees.

“A few of us have been involved in this for a long time, so to finally see the cows out here is fantastic. It is the culmination of so much hard work by so many people, and it is going to really enhance the site.”

Highland cattle have been released onto Whitwell Common, as their grazing will help preserve the fens rare plant life. Picture: Chris Hill.Highland cattle have been released onto Whitwell Common, as their grazing will help preserve the fen's rare plant life. Picture: Chris Hill.

Norfolk County Council ecologist Ed Stocker oversees the managem…

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