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Longhorn cattle grazing in Epping Forest

Longhorn cow grazing in Epping Forest​

​More than 1,000 years of grazing by domestic animals has shaped the landscape of the Forest today.

The Conservators have re-introduced the traditional management technique of cattle grazing to restore historical semi-natural wood pasture in some areas of the Forest and to ensure that the veteran trees and their associated flora and fauna survive for future generations to enjoy.

Please keep dogs on the lead when near the cattle

Where our cows are

Our cows are tucked up for winter at the moment, but see our cattle grazing map to find out where they'll be next year.

Lousewort

​Lousewort, which has benefitted hugely from the reintroduction of grazing

The benefits of cattle grazing

As well as protecting the ancient tradition of grazing in the Forest, the introduction of a grazing programme has significant benefits to the Forest's ecosystem.

Grazing allows more flowers to flourish than mowing would. Low-growing species such as Birds-foot Trefoil only thrive where the thatch of dead grass stems is regularly removed and hooves create bare ground.

Lousewort also benefits from grazing. Before grazing was reintroduced, there was only a small patch in the Forest the size of a carpet tile. Now, these purple flowers carpet much more of the Forest floor.

Pepper Saxifrage and Spiny Rest-harrow are other species that thrive when grazed.

Many insects rely on these flowers and several species of butterfly have become extinct as grazing has decreased.

Grazing in the Forest helps to maintain the unique wood pasture that makes Epping Forest so unique and contributes to the rich diversity of the ecosystem.

Sketches of two traditional cattle brand marks once used in the parishes of Theydon Bois and Waltham Abbey Holy Cross.

​Brands from the Epping Forest parishes of Theydon Bois and Waltham Abbey Holy Cross

​The cattle

Epping Forest is grazed by longhorn cattle. Longhorns are one of the rarer breeds of British cattle, known for their docile nature and ability to thrive on rough grazing. Despite their sometimes scary appearance, they are very friendly!

The history of grazing in Epping Forest

​Grazing by cattle has taken place continuously in Epping Forest for well over 1,000 years. Grazing by free-ranging commoners' cattle continued throughout the 20th century although numbers started to decline as farming practices changed.

In 1996, the impact of the BSE crisis finally broke the tradition. Fortunately grazing continued on a small heathland area of the Forest where a commoner had entered into a partnership with the Conservators by introducing a limited number of English Longhorn cattle to rejuvenate the rare heathland flora.

These Longhorns became the basis for a conservation herd that was re-established on the Forest at Fairmead and Chingford in 2002. A herdsman was employed to keep the cattle within this area where they have now grazed for several summers.

The herd has now grown to around 100 cows which are grazed in smaller groups, largely thanks to the Heritage Lottery Funded Branching Out Project. They continue to be a valuable conservation tool.

The invisible fence system

Epping Forest was the first open space in the world to use invisible fencing back in 2011. Invisible fencing uses a buried wire to send a warning signal to collars which our cattle wear. The collars use high-pitched noise to 'herd' cows back into a desired area.

Along with the cattle grids installed by Essex County Council and some traditional wooden fencing along the busiest A roads, invisible fencing enables more of the Forest to be grazed as it has been for centuries. It also means that visitors benefit from vistas that aren't broken up so often by visible fencing.

Published:
22 March 2012
Last Modified:
14 November 2018

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