Cattle introduced to a young woodland will be monitored using GPS to track their ‘moo-vements’ and see how they are helping nature, a charity said.
The small herd of six Dexter cows have been put into an area of young trees at Avon Valley Woods, Devon, to help the wood and its wildlife regenerate, the Woodland Trust said.
The site was planted as a millennium wood in 2000 on what had been arable land and the young trees are flourishing, the Trust said, but the structure of the wood lacks the variety that would help it support a wider range of wildlife.
It is hoped the activity of the animals, trampling the ground, leaving dung and making paths through the area will help boost plants, insects and other animals and create a mixture of grassland, maturing woods, scrub and glades.
The impact of these large grazing beasts on the woods will also be structural and immediately visible - they will bash their way through, creating new paths and keeping glades clear of shrubsJohn Severn, Cows in Clover
At least one of the cows is being fitted with a GPS collar to see how the conservation grazing is working, allowing the Trust to look at where they have been and what their impact has been.
It will also help with monitoring the cows’ health and wellbeing, while visitors to the wood will be able to track online where the animals are.
John Severn, of Cows in Clover which has supplied the cows, said: “The trampling of cows’ hooves will stir up the soil, releasing and encouraging seeds to germinate and new plants to flourish.
“Their dung will attract insects which will in turn provide food for birds and bats.
“The impact of these large grazing beasts on the woods will also be structural and immediately visible – they will bash their way through, creating new paths and keeping glades clear of shrubs.
“The result will be a more diverse mosaic of open grassland, scrub, maturing woods and sun-speckled glades supporting a diverse range of wildlife.”
He said the “calm and steady” Dexters had been reared to be comfortable around dogs and people, but some visitors may appreciate knowing where they are so they can walk in a different part of the woods.
Paul Allen, Woodland Trust site manager, said the cows would “bring a wild influence to this landscape which will evolve as they browse, roam, and make it their home”.
“What is great about the tracking system is that we’ll be able to see what parts of the wood they favour and then match that up to how it has changed,” he said.