Northumberland National Park Drovers Project
The Drovers Project is a two year project managed by Northumberland
National Park Authority with partnership funding from the Heritage
Lottery Fund, the Countryside Agency, English Nature and the
National Trust. Started in 2003 the project has now been running
for just over a year, and is set to draw to a close in May
|Part of the Hotbank
herd of Whitebred Shorthorn, Galloway and Blue Grey Cattle
The project aims to highlight the value of traditional breeds
of cattle in grazing for conservation value on sites of key
natural habitats. These traditional breeds include the Galloway
Blue Grey, Whitebred Shorthorn and others. These breeds are
distinctive in their appearance and as such contribute to the
local character of Northumberland. The Blue Grey in particular
formed the majority of upland suckler herds in the National
Park area about 40 years ago, popular due to their hardy character
and ability to do well on poor pasture with minimal supplementary
However, in recent years, traditional cattle breeds have been
largely overshadowed by continental breeds such as the Charolais,
Simmental and Limousin. A traditional breeds survey undertaken
as part of the Drovers project revealed the extent of the decline
in numbers of our native cattle breeds.
Continental cattle, with their leaner appearance and faster
maturing attributes were felt to be better suited to the changing
beef production systems and markets. Although popular with
many farmers from a commercial viewpoint, these breeds are
less able to maintain the nature conservation value of key
habitats found within the National Park, such as upland mires
and areas of heather regeneration.
As such, traditional breeds have developed a vital new role
in helping to maintain the biodiversity of the uplands through
grazing sites for conservation objectives, such as those within
the Drovers Project.
At the forefront of such work are the Galloway and its cross
the Blue Grey, widely regarded as being unrivalled as conservation
grazing animals, and increasingly being recognised for their
ability to graze rough grassland habitats in particular. The
broader grazing preferences of breeds such as the Blue Grey
reduce the cover of rank grasses such as Purple Moor Grass
and open up the sward to encourage greater species diversity.
|Blue Greys on Cragend
during the 2004 grazing season
The first site to be grazed under a Drovers project agreement
was Cragend on Hotbank Farm, in the Hadrians Wall area of the
National Park. This site has now been grazed for two seasons,
for a period of 10 weeks each. The objective for this site
has been to use Galloway and Blue Grey cattle to reduce the
dominance of Purple Moor Grass (Molinia caerulea) in order
to open up the vegetation sward to allow greater species diversity
and to encourage heather regeneration.
Purple moor grass is only palatable for a short length of
time during the summer, generally June to September, hence
the relatively short grazing period. After this time it becomes
dry and coarse and cattle will move onto other vegetation,
which may lead to damage to heather etc, so the cattle are
removed from the site at this stage.
As part of the project we are undertaking monitoring of the
cattle behaviour on site through daily records of location
and activity during the grazing seasons. This information allows
behaviour patterns to be identified and assessments of how
different parts of the sites are being used by the cattle.
Once the cattle are removed from the sites post-grazing vegetation
monitoring is undertaken. The results from this are compared
with baseline data for the sites, where available, and to results
from last year to infer conclusions regarding the impact the
cattle have had on the sites.
So far results have been promising, with the cattle having
a considerable impact upon the rank grass species such as purple
moor grass and causing little damage to sensitive habitats
such as mires.
The Drovers project is also aiming
to research the cultural associations of such traditional
breeds, and the history of cattle droving in the area,
which was at its peak between the 16th and 18th centuries.
As part of the project we are requesting stories and
anecdotes relating to the keeping of traditional cattle,
and to droving.