Cow Club

The Dranges Nature Reserve on Gower a mixture of grassland habitats and woodland totalling 17ha between Fairwood, Barlands & Clyne Commons.  In 2013 when the SITA Trust funded our Marsh fritillary Habitat Recovery project and we renewed 4.5km of internal at boundary fencing at, what was then a newly acquired nature reserve, the intention had always been to graze the fields with cattle. The local farmer we had been in conversation with changed his mind for a number of reasons and we could not find anyone else willing to graze cattle on the reserve. Since then we have had Welsh Mountain ponies from Torcoed Welsh Mountain Ponies doing a great job grazing the reserve but we still aspired to get cattle on the reserve. Cattle graze differently to ponies and would prove a greater benefit to the grass land so important for the Marsh Fritillary butterfly.

We needed an innovative solution if we wanted cattle grazing this site – Cow Club was formed. Instigated by local WTO Paul Thornton and supported & advised by Emma from the conservation grazing organisation PONT & Gower Meadow Beef, a group of friends came together and bought three young Dexter steers and introduced them to the reserve in January this year. The group of six came organically together from a shared interest in conservation grazing, livestock ownership and high welfare pasture fed beef. With shared costs and shared responsibility for the small herd of cattle, Cow Club has established a manageable routine for checking the animals and monitoring the effects on the grassland. Commenting on the benefits of both owning cattle and managing the nature reserve Paul said, “This is the ideal solution for grazing an awkward reserve & we have full control of the grazing which ensures we can move the animals into whichever of the four fields most requires the grazing and trampling benefits they bring. This way we can ensure that we achieve the best habitat outcomes, on our own terms, without having to rely on an external grazier to respond to our requests. The Dexters are a small breed, friendly and easy to handle. They will happily live outdoors year round and they will thrive on what some might call rough vegetation. I hope we see other Cow Clubs spring up to offer a low intensity conservation grazing solution”.

There are a number of reasons it can be difficult to find farmers prepared to put cattle on a nature reserve. In this case the access to the reserve is very poor and with the low numbers of animals we wanted on site still requiring daily checks this would have been time consuming and potentially costly to the farmer. There are also concerns about Bovine Tb, this part of Gower is a particularly high risk area for this and by splitting a herd, putting a small number of cattle on a nature reserve, if an animal were to be infected it the grazier risks restrictions being placed on their agricultural holding. The Dranges does not have public access but on other reserves livestock owners sometimes have concerns regarding us encouraging public access and therefore increased liability or risk of worrying by dogs.

If you have any questions or queries about conservation grazing, this reserve or establishing a Cow Club feel free to contact Paul at p.thornton@welshwildlife.org or Emma at emma.douglas@pontcymru.org