Cows introduced in Devon woods to boost biodiversity

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A SMALL herd of cows will be tagged with GPS in a new scheme by the Woodland Trust to track their “moovements” and how they can boost diversity.

Six Dexter cows have started roaming Avon Valley Woods, Devon, last weekend.

At least one of these will be fitted with a GPS collar, and visitors to the wood will be able to track online where the cows are.

The tracking system will allow the Trust to assess where the cows have been and what impact they’ve made in helping to regenerate the wood and its wildlife.

It will also allow the cows’ health and well-being to be monitored.

The cows will be grazing the young woodland and are part of the Woodland Trust’s approach to managing it.

Planted as a Millennium Wood in 2000 on what had been arable fields, the new trees are flourishing and the land is coming back to life, but the wood structure lacks the variety that would help it support a wider range of plants, insects, birds and other animals.

Conservation grazier John Severn, of Cows in Clover which has supplied the cows, commented: “The trampling of cows’ hooves will stir up the soil, releasing and encouraging seeds to germinate and new plants to flourish.

“Their dung will attract insects which will in turn provide food for birds and bats.

“The impact of these large grazing beasts on the woods will also be structural and immediately visible – they will bash their way through, creating new paths and keeping glades clear of shrubs.

“The result will be a more diverse mosaic of open grassland, scrub, maturing woods and sun-speckled glades supporting a diverse range of wildlife.”

“Our Dexters have been reared to be comfortable around people and dogs, and are calm and steady creatures but some dog walkers may appreciate knowing where they are so they can walk in a different part of the Avon Valley Woods.”

As part of regenerating this landscape, introducing large herbivores like cows adds a whole new layer in the ecosystem and is expected to have dramatic benefits for wildlife.

Paul Allen, Woodland Trust site manager, added: “Cows are instigators of dynamic change.

“They will bring a wild influence to this landscape which will evolve as they browse, roam, and make it their home.

“I am very excited to see how the trees and wildlife develop.

“What is great about the tracking system is that we’ll be able to see what parts of the wood they favour and then match that up to how it has changed.

“And of course, I can’t wait to meet our new woodland workers: Denzil, Bisy Backson, Dumbledore, June, Bella and Berry.”

Dexters are often chosen as a conservation grazing breed as they are small but hardy mountain cattle, used to living on steep slopes and being outside in all weathers.

John aims to keep a herd in the Avon Valley Woods all year round.

The woods will offer much needed shade on hot days, while in the winter, they’ll find shelter from the wind.

The range of trees, grass and wild plants the cows can choose to eat also allows them to shape their own diets, self-medicating if needed or turning to certain plants for key vitamins or minerals.

Track the cows here or use the QR code on signs in the woods (signal dependent).

The Avon Valley Woods are spread across 139 hectares near Kingsbridge in South Devon and include newly planted woodland alongside steep wooded valleys.

It is particularly special to the Woodland Trust as it includes the first site that the charity acquired in 1972.