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Grazing, it's amazing!

  • Cattle grazing at the Beeches
    Cattle grazing at Burnham Beeches
    ​British white cattle are a regular sight at Burnham Beeches

​For centuries Burnham Beeches and Stoke Common were grazed by livestock. At the Beeches the animals roamed in a landscape characterised by open woodland known as wood pasture and at Stoke Common the grazed on the heathland plants. To find out more about wood pasture and heathland, look at our wildlife and nature page. With the decline of heath and woodland management about 100 years ago, coupled with the removal of grazing animals, scrub and young woodland began to grow and much of the previously open landscapes started to disappear.

In early may we will be bringing the cattle back to the Beeches but this time they will graze a small area of the main common, the first time this area will have been grazed for around 100 years. They will be held within an area of electric fencing and there will be signs out to let you know where they will be. Whilst they are on site, please do not approach or feed them as this can be very damaging to their health. Also please remember to keep any dogs under close control.

Due to the they way they graze, livestock help to create a diverse plant structure which is great news for the wildlife. Ultimately we hope to have the livestock grazing the whole of the common to remove the need to cut it with machinery.

Bringing back livestock

  • British white cow
    cow browsing

    ​Our cattle thrive on the coarse vegetation on site

Livestock helped to create the habitats on the reserves by grazing and browsing. We have re-introduced grazing animals to help restore and conserve the different habitats on the sites. Already nearly all of Stoke Common and about 73% of Burnham Beeches is grazed and ultimately we hope to graze as much of both sites as possible.

As livestock do not always graze the same places, a diverse structure is produced – this is great for wildlife. Livestock can graze in areas where machinery can’t get to, such as near dead wood or uneven ground.

The benefits of using grazing animals, the challenges they pose and the proposals for expanding the area grazed are all explained in our leaflet 'Restoring the pastoral landscape of Burnham Beeches' and our Grazing Restoration Project fact sheet. If you would like a PDF of either please email us.

Which livestock are used

  • Exmoor ponies
    Exmoor ponies grazing
    ​Exmoor ponies graze happily on both our sites

We use traditional breeds which are better suited to grazing rough vegetation like that in the Beeches. The Rare Breeds Survival Trust has information about the conservation of rare native breeds of farm animals. We have our own British White cattle and Exmoor ponies and have also used Berkshire pigs to graze and forage under the trees. At Stoke Common we have a grazing agreement with a local farmer who uses Sussex cattle.

How many and when?

  • Visitors and cattle
    Cattle graze as visitors look on
    Enjoy watching from a distance but please don't pet or feed the livestock

​As the livestock do not get any supplementary feed whilst they are on site they are not out all year round. Depending on which animals are grazing, they can be out for anything between six and eight months, starting around May. When we use pigs they go out on site in the traditional 'pannage' season which is September to November; during this time there are lots of acorns and beech nuts for them to eat.

At present we have seven British White cattle and three Exmoor ponies at the Beeches. On Stoke Common around 20 Sussex cattle are used.

Fences: both physical and invisible

​Livestock need to be prevented from straying off your land or into areas where they shouldn’t be. Traditionally this means a post and rail or post and wire fence or a stock proof hedge. These methods are fine but they can restrict access so carefully positioned gates are needed. Fences can intrude visually on the ‘natural’ landscape. We have fenced paddocks at both Burnham Beeches and Stoke Common.

Invisible fences

We also use an 'invisible fence' system which has buried cables and collars on the animals. It works by transmitting a radio signal along the cable which is picked up by the collars; if an animal approaches the cable the collar emits an audible warning, if they get too close they receive a small electric shock. The shock is similar to that given by a traditional electric fence and after one or two shocks they learn to keep away and stay in the paddock.​ With invisible fences there is no need for gates, in fact access is greatly improved, and as the cable is buried there is nothing to spoil the view.