Whilst our extensive grazing Galloway cattle are still considered domestic they have more self will and freedom than most farm cattle and attract attention because they are in the valley all year round and often appear in the woodland or crossing the River Liza.
We have three herds of extensive grazing cattle which wander around the valley east of the lake. We introduced them as a natural disturbance process, as they are heavier enough to be able to disturb the ground vegetation creating a patchwork of natural seedbeds. Through a series of opportunistic processes seed falling on these patches may germinate and grow leading to more diverse habitats. In addition cattle graze by using their tongues to selectively rip vegetation which leaves a more diverse sward.
Whilst we have introduced the cattle and set their boundaries we are not entirely in control of their daily grazing and wandering so the habitat mosaic that develops will hopefully be more natural as the animals respond to weather, grazing and their own instinct
Where to see
Our Galloway cattle can be found along the valley east of the lake. One herd grazes in Silver Cove and Deep Gill, one in the valley and forests around and east of Gillerthwaite and one herd can be found around and south of Blacksail YHA. As they are free roaming they can be difficult to find.
Please avoid disturbing Cows with young calves as the Cows can become defensive.
Whilst we want to allow our cattle to search for grazing to encourage them to create more diverse habitats we do monitor them at least once a week and when snow cover stops them accessing grazing we give them hay. Once a year all the cattle get a health check and often in winter they will get energy blocks which give them essential nutrients.
Historically grazing in Ennerdale was dominated by intensive sheep grazing in the valley bottom and western valley fields and on the open mountains with deer grazing in the forest. However since 2006 the Wild Ennerdale partners have been actively encouraging their farm tenants to move from intensive sheep to extensive cattle grazing.
Cattle are less selective grazers than sheep and the heavier weight of cattle can have a positive impact on bracken and low scrub, breaking up mats of dead litter and creating pathways through tall, dense vegetation. The cattle can also create more ground disturbance creating micro nursery beds which offer the opportunity for other natural processes to bring about vegetation change. Cattle can benefit tree seedlings by creating seed beds and then ‘burying’ seeds into the ground with their hooves.
Cattle eat differently to sheep eating with their tongues wrapping around and ripping vegetation leaving a rougher deeper sward. They selectively leave some plants and areas ungrazed for periods. Sheep eat with their teeth cutting all vegetation to a low sward and are not selective so nearly all accessible vegetation is grazed to the same height leaving no opportunity for structural or species diversity.
Finally in an upland setting cattle are terrain challenged by their weight and size meaning they cannot access all the steeper terrain leaving the habitats in these areas to grow naturally ungrazed. Sheep are lighter and able to access even steep terrain meaning that even steep areas can be grazed to the same degree as level areas.