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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 in housing for the Winter now, but will be out grazing the Forest again in Spring.

See our cattle grazing map for help finding our cows 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.

Lord Mayor Fiona Woolf with some red poll cattle in Epping Forest

​Former Lord Mayor Fiona Woolf meeting some of the red poll cattle in Epping Forest

​The cattle

There are two different types of cattle currently grazing the Forest - longhorns and red poll. 

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.

Red polls are another traditional British breed of cattle, also gentle in nature. They are naturally 'polled' or hornless.

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.

Parish brand irons for Theydon Bois and Waltham Abbey Holy Cross

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

The invisible fence system

Epping Forest is literally breaking ground by installing invisible fencing. This is a buried wire that sends a warning signal to the collars our cattle are wearing. We are trialling this approach in the UK and Epping Forest was the first open space in the world to use this type of fencing when it was trialled successfully in 2011.

Along with the cattle grids recently installed by Essex County Council and some traditional wooden fencing along the busiest A roads, invisible fencing will now enable more of the Forest to be grazed as it has been for centuries, and visitors will benefit from less visible fencing.

You can request a copy of our Grazing Strategy at: epping.forest@cityoflondon.gov.uk

 

Published:
22 March 2012
Last Modified:
07 November 2017

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