New residents have moved into the centre of Warminster and very snappy dressers they are too; for they wear a distinctive broad white belt around their fine black coats.
The Wiltshire Wildlife Trust has released 13 Belted Galloway cattle into Smallbrook Meadows nature reserve to graze these former water meadows as part of its drive to restore wild flowers in grassland around the county.
“The reserve had not been grazed by our usual grazier for the past year so we took the decision to transfer some of our Belties from our Clattinger Farm nature reserve in the north of the county,” says John Rattray, the Trust’s Head of Land Management.
“They will stay on site until spring, steadily eating down the grass which will open up the sward and give the wild flowers a chance to grow,” he adds. “We will transfer them back to Clattinger before the orchids and other wild flowers appear – because these are just as tempting to cattle as chocolates are to humans – and we wouldn’t have any flowers left otherwise!”
John says: “We chose the Belties because they are such an attractive breed and we thought the many people who enjoy walking through the reserve would find them pleasing to the eye.
“Also, they are peaceful by nature and tend to move gently away from people rather than approaching them out of curiosity, which makes them suitable for grazing a public space.”
Originating as they do in the exposed highlands of south-west Scotland, the Belties are extremely hardy and are used to being outside in all sorts of weather. To fend off the worst of it they have a double coat of long hair to shed the rain and a soft undercoat to provide warmth.
The heifers (young females), are part of a 45 strong Belted Galloway herd bred by the Trust for restoring grasslands. The Trust also has herds of Aberdeen Angus, Beef Shorthorns and Dexter cattle in use on its reserves around the county, in addition to sheep and Exmoor ponies. They also lend them out to other landowners who struggle to graze their own land.
Traditional hay meadows and chalk grasslands need to be regularly grazed, because otherwise they would quickly revert to scrub and then woodland. The livestock nibble the grass and the shoots of scrub, keeping the ground clear for wild flowers.
“If we find that people like the Belties at Smallbrook Meadows, and they do their job well, they could become a permanent feature,” adds John.
The reserve is owned by Wiltshire Council but managed by the Trust to maintain and enhance the mixture of habitats. Wetlands in Britain are in decline, and are particularly rare in Wiltshire, so areas such as Smallbrook Meadows are of great wildlife value.
In former times it would have been managed as traditional water meadows by controlling the flooding to provide an early crop of grass for grazing sheep. In late summer a hay crop would be taken, and then followed by more grazing of the ‘aftermath’.
The Trust’s New Life for Chalk Grassland Project is running a ‘Sponsor a Grazing animal’ scheme where for as little as £2 a month you could sponsor a Beltie, Aberdeen Angus, Dexter, Exmoor pony or Herdwick sheep.
In return you will receive:
- A twice yearly newsletter informing you of the animal’s progress and the best places to go for seasonal wildflowers.
- A certificate of sponsorship.
- A jute bag with an exclusive Wiltshire Wildlife Trust design
For more information go to www.wiltshirewildlife.org/joindonate/sponsorananimal/pagetemplate.aspx