Cattle on Bepton Down

Cowdray cattle on and off Bepton Down

After speaking with Cowdray earlier in the year the introduction of cattle onto Bepton Down was delayed from the beginning of July until early in August. Their late arrival was intended to give the flowering orchids a chance to set seed, though many species including Pyramidal Orchids were still in flower when the cows turned up.

Cattle on Bepton Down
Two of the commercial cattle that have been on Bepton Down. They enjoy eating all the good things but don’t touch the unpalatable scrub.

The cattle came on to the site around 7th August. There were about thirty of them and they appear to have been removed on the morning of Saturday 22nd August. I went out on the hill at 7 a.m. today, Sunday 23rd August, and traversed both the Access Area, the area above it and the top field along the South Downs Way to make doubly sure that there was not a single heifer left. There were none. They are now in the field opposite the top field along the S.D.W.

It is just as well they have been removed. In the SSSI areas they have trampled down and eaten everything that was palatable to them. In some of those areas the vegetation has been browsed right to the ground. With the onset of rainy weather some areas are beginning to get too muddy for the number of cattle that were on site.

Unpalatable scrub

Their passage has revealed just how many areas of unpalatable scrub there are. These commercial breeds of cattle will never tackle any of this. The areas of brambles and other thorny material are increasing and there is also the small matter of the stands of Hemp Agrimony. These are quite substantial and are not tackled by bovine lawn mowers! There are far too many areas which are now being choked by this plant. Some is good, too much is much too much.

Hemp Agrimony Bepton Down
Tall stands of Hemp Agrimony invade Bepton Down. They look pretty but they’re pushing out the orchids and cowslips.

I revert to my not so stupid idea that (and as many other owners of wild flower meadows do) the whole area should have been cut at the same time. This would level the sward uniformly allowing the good seed to drop to the ground. The detritus (as it would have contained much rubbish) should then have been removed so as to prevent soil improvement. (Incidentally cow pats from 30 head provide quantities of unwanted nutrients too!).

Until Cowdray cut down and remove the scrub there is no end in sight. They should do this before some of the unwanted plants begin to die back.

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