With more than 6,000 acres of nature reserve across Norfolk, our grazing sheep, cattle, and ponies are essential to conservation.
Our native breed stock prevent important areas for wildlife from being overgrown. Without this regular removal of vegetation, many of our rare and fragile habitats and the species they support would be at risk of being swamped by even just a handful of more dominant plants.
In the unique Breckland Living Landscape
, for example, a single year without grazing could be seriously detrimental to the ecology of our heaths and endanger plants such as Spanish catchfly. At our internationally recognised reserve at Roydon Common
, the protection of fragile mire plants such as bog asphodel and sundew relies on sensitive seasonal grazing.
We need to continue our conservation grazing and now want to do so much more across Norfolk's most fragile sites. To do so we need your help. Donating today will help us make a real difference for Norfolk's wildlife in the future.
A Unique Breckland
The dry climate and sandy soils mean that specialist plants are found here that exist nowhere else in the UK; plants such as Spanish catchfly and perennial knawel. Pony and sheep grazing is helping to restore numerous Breckland sites including. Hockwold Heath and Cranwich Camp, to conserve this unique habitat.
Our Wetland Paradise
At NWT Hickling Broad, the pony grazing is helping to conserve the fen grasslands, home to species that are iconic of our Broadland habitats, such as the swallowtail butterfly and the Norfolk hawker dragonfly. The Konik breed of ponies grazing at Hickling are actually of Polish ancestry. Being extremely hardy, these animals are well suited to grazing our wetlands reserves.
NWT Roydon Common Nature Reserve is a Ramsar site, meaning that it is internationally important for its abundance of wildlife. The mire is highly diverse, and supports many rare plants such as black bog-rush, bog orchid, marsh fern, cranberry, bog asphodel, common cotton-grass, all three species of sundew and carpets of sphagnum moss. The pools are important breeding grounds for a variety of dragonflies including the broad-bodied chaser and black darter. However, an historic lack of grazing has threatened this biodiverse habitat. We will be working hard over the next few years to develop our team of grazing animals in order to safeguard these species and habitats into the future.
Wildfowl and Waders
NWT Cley Marshes nature reserve is a haven for birds (and for birdwatching!). The coastal marshes and reedbed support impressive flocks of wintering and migrating wildfowl and waders. Cattle grazing is essential to help maintain these open grasslands, creating feeding habitats to support the diversity of birdlife.
Sheep grazing at NWT Weeting Heath Nature Reserve creates short turfs, ideal nesting areas for stone curlew. “Stonies”, an iconic Breckland bird, were once at threat of extinction in the UK but are now making a comeback. You can spot them from our Weeting Heath visitor centre between April and August.
The year round pony grazing on Buxton Heath nature reserve has led to a marked increase in the number of marsh helleborine. By removing the annual vegetation growth through grazing, diverse species have a chance to flourish. This beautiful orchid, whose distinctive white and pink flowers appear during July and August, is now a common sight within the valley mire on this heathland reserve.
A recent restoration project within our Bure Valley Living Landscape saw the re-introduction of grazing onto NWT Upton Fen. The diverse community of plants found on the fen, including the rare fen orchid, are under threat due to a lack of cutting and grazing. Our new team of British White Cattle were introduced in spring 2015 to help restore the site - the first time this area has been grazed in living memory.
Toads in Holes
A current NWT project is working to create and restore shallow pools across the dune habitat at NWT Holme Dunes national nature reserve. These ephemeral ponds are home to the endangered natterjack toads, one of the UK’s rarest amphibians. During the breeding season the males can be seen (or more often heard) making their distinctive rasping call especially in the evening and after rain. Grazing is now being introduced to maintain the open vegetation alongside these pools and secure this restoration work for the long term.
Protecting our Heritage – Our work with native breed societies is helping to preserve the traditional types of livestock that were once common across the UK. Dartmoor ponies can be seen at sites such as NWT Roydon Common and Holt Lowes. The most recent addition to our grazing team is the British White cattle, which can be seen at NWT Upton Fen. This breed has a long history in Norfolk dating back centuries.
The Flying Flock
Our "flying flock" was set up 20 years ago to move around our nature reserves, preventing areas which are important for wildlife becoming overgrown. This name reflects the fact that the sheep are highly mobile and are “flown in” (via road rather than air!) wherever they are most needed. Our ongoing breeding program has seen NWT become the largest owner of pedigree registered Shetland sheep in the whole of the UK.
Dartmoor and Konik ponies, photo by Lynda Simpson
Bog asphodel, photo by David North
Cow drinking at Cley Marshes, photo by Liz Dack
Stone curlew, photo by Lawrie Webb
Marsh helleborine, photo by Angela Collins
Natterjack toad, photo by Karl Charters
Swallowtail butterfly, photo by Liz Dack
Broad bodied chaser, photo by Greg Bond