Dexter cattle help to restore our reserve

Thursday 7th July 2016

An innovative ‘invisible’ electric fence system has been successfully installed on Walton Common nature reserve in North Somerset.

 
Why is Walton Common so important?

 

Walton Common nature reserve is an important Site of Special Scientific Interest (SSSI) and Scheduled Ancient Monument. Rich in wildlife and home to three nationally scarce mosses (including the recently re-discovered ‘rabbit moss’) and the scarce autumn lady’s tresses orchid. Much of the reserve is of archaeological interest, including the remains of a prehistorical settlement called a ‘banjo’. 

Our volunteers have been working hard to restore this special area, however grazing the area is vital, to maintain and improve this wildlife rich area, and protect the ancient archaeology.

 

Introducing the Dexters

 

Walton Common has not been grazed for decades, due to the absence of fencing , however, some recent technology developments have changed the way conservation grazing can be carried out on common land, through an ‘invisible fence’ system. 

Avon Wildlife Trust have invested in the system with support from Natural England, Historic England and our grazier, and the result is that a small heard of Dexter cattle have been introduced to help restore this important grassland.

Dexters are the UK’s smallest breed of cattle and docile in nature, so ideal for public sites. They also eat a range of plants, which makes them perfect for grassland restoration.

 

How does the invisible fence work?

 

The invisible fence system is a buried cable that will follow the perimeter of the grassland enclosing the Common Land. The cattle will wear collars and when they are 3 - 4 metres from the buried, invisible fence, the collar buzzes to let them know to go back. If they continue to approach the fence, then they receive an electric shock, similar to a typical electric fence.

Epping Forest and Burnham Beeches have been successfully using this system for a number of years to keep cattle off major roads and the system has proven hugely effective.

The cattle learn very quickly and we are confident the addition of having cattle on the Common will significantly improve the condition of the SSSI while not having any negative impacts on landscape, the local community, or members of the public and their dogs. Initially there will be a small group of Dexters trained and introduced to the site, but these numbers will hopefully steadily grow to ensure the nature reserve receives the grazing required to benefit the site’s unique flora and fauna.

We ask visitors to the site to please keep dogs under close control, especially while the Dexters get used to their new home.

 

 

Read Volunteer Warden Dave Horlick's blog to find out more about the wonderful wildlife of Walton Common.

WALK WITH THE WARDEN - Join dave for a wildlife walk around Walton Common, every second Saturday of the month. Details here.

Photos. (c) Dave Horlick