Six rare breed cattle will help maintain the meadows 1/2
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High-tech cows aid nature conservation at NWT Sweet Briar Marshes

Friday 09 February, 2024

Six rare breed cattle, sporting the latest in grazing technology, have been released at Norfolk Wildlife Trust's newest urban nature reserve to help with vital habitat management.

The Sweet Briar herd of British White cattle wear collars containing a GPS tracker, allowing the reserve team to focus grazing in the areas that need it the most. The herd will play a vital part in the conservation management at Sweet Briar Marshes, helping to preserve the mosaic of different habitats, including those which form a Site of Special Scientific Interest (SSSI), and will therefore support a wider range of wildlife on the reserve.

NWT Sweet Briar Marshes will be open to the public in spring 2024, following a year of community engagement. This has fed into the shared vision for the future of the site.

Funding from Biffa Award, as part of the Landfill Communities Fund, has paid for the essential infrastructure needed to introduce the cattle to the marshes, namely a 2.6km long perimeter fence surrounding Sweet Briar Marshes and facilities for the cattle on site.

British Whites are among the earliest recorded domestic cattle breeds in Britain and have roots back to Norfolk from the late 1700s. They are ideal for conservation grazing as they are hardy and well-adapted to wet sites such as Sweet Briar Marshes. Reintroducing cattle here will begin to recover natural processes, whether that's the breaking down of vegetation to create a higher diversity of plant species, or the creation of bare ground to the benefit of feeding birds, invertebrates or basking reptiles.

Matt Wickens, NWT Urban Reserves Manager, says: 'Typically on our nature reserves we have a perimeter fence at our boundary, and our livestock roam it as one big field. If we want to keep them inside or outside of an area it requires using traditional electric fencing methods. With this collar technology we're able to be much more flexible, dividing that field as necessary into compartments at different times of the year to benefit wildlife, all from a phone app.

'It has also meant that with the help of volunteers, we've been able to remove large volumes of the dilapidated barbed wire that were strung across the middle of Sweet Briar which formed a hazard to livestock, wildlife and people.

'We have been trialling the collars on a similar urban reserve and are confident the cows understand how the technology works, so that when they approach a virtual fence, they are reacting to the sound cue that plays, rather than the mild electric pulse. We will be monitoring the system closely – and it will not be a substitute for our regular welfare checks.

'We're excited to have moved cows on to Sweet Briar Marshes after the work that has gone into making this possible. Livestock have grazed these marshes off and on for many years. So really this is just the return of an old way of doing things and mimics the wild herds that would have once roamed across Norfolk thousands of years ago.'

Rachel Maidment, Biffa Award Grants Manager said: ‘We are delighted to have funded the infrastructure to welcome a grazing herd onto NWT Sweet Briar Marshes. As well as keeping the habitat in tiptop condition for nature, we’re sure locals and visitors alike will love watching these beautiful creatures doing what they do best and benefiting nature at the same time.’ 

Find out more about NWT Sweet Briar Marshes here
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