Cattle on the Downs

Cow plus NT signRecently, villagers have become concerned about a number of incidents between residents and the cattle grazing on Fulking escarpment.  In July 2015 the Parish Council invited the National Trust to a meeting to discuss the situation. One of the suggestions was to use the website to exchange information on the cattle.

Update April 2016 (Michael Trist):

  1. Cattle are likely to be on the Downs for ‘most of the year’.  This does not tally with what was agreed with Graham Wellfare (NT Ranger) in July 2015.  The dates agreed were March to October, leaving the ground to be protected during the wet months of November to February.
  2. Where cattle had been seen on top of Fulking Hill by villagers in December 2015, this was only while the cattle were in transit – the cattle were overwintered at the Edburton end of the Downs.
  3. It is the intention of the NT to have the cattle grazed in 3 ‘paddocks’, each contained by fencing.  A new piece of fence is due to be erected in the next few weeks.  This will run immediately opposite the ‘concrete road’ (Perching Droveway), directly southwards up the escarpment.  This will join up with other fences as part of the partitioning of the escarpment in to the three paddocks.  The cattle have been put on the scarp slope as soon as possible this year, as the invasive Tor Grass has an earlier Spring flush than other grasses and the NT want this grazed down as soon as possible.
  4. Ranger Charlie Cain passed on a request that gates are closed by walkers.
  5. MT reminded Charlie of the request for signage that had been requested in last year’s meeting: Charlie agreed that signs would be put on all gateways, but probably not on all stiles as there would be too many to do.
  6. MT reminded Charlie that at the 2015 meeting, villagers had requested that as few calves and their mothers would be grazed on the Downs, as these posed the greatest risk to walkers.  Charlie said that the Grazer (Nick Harvey) knows of this request, and also that the least problematic cattle would be chosen to graze here – as requested at the 2015 meeting.
  7. MT also stressed to Charlie that although local residents may be aware of the cattle, and have some idea of how to interact with them, there are a large number of walkers that visit from outside the area. These visitors may not know how to avoid the risks involved when walking (with or without dogs) in their vicinity.
During the FPC meeting of 14/4/16, the following actions were agreed:
  1. MT was requested to ring Charlie Cain and ask that the signs be moved on and off the relevant gates, showing where cattle are grazing, otherwise walkers might not be clear where exactly the cattle are at any given time.
  2. It was also suggested that a log be kept of any incidents where/when/if people have intimidating/dangerous encounters with cattle.  MT offered for people to ring/email him so that he could keep a central log of any such incidents.

Update July 2015:

A new page has been set up – this is the first update. Residents’ views and comments are welcome, so if you would like to add anything to the page please email (headed “Cattle on the Downs”).

Graham Wellfare, Community and Learning Ranger, from the National Trust attended the meeting.

The following points were made by residents:

  • There are dual requirements to conserve/enhance wildlife; and also enjoyment of the National Park by the public-but it is recognised that the NT & SDNP are separate organisations
  • Residents reported feeling intimidated by cattle with calves
  • Cattle are adding to the erosion of the paths on the hill
  • In addition, it is felt that when it is damp, cattle rapidly erode the paths leaving them in a poor condition which endangers walkers
  • Villagers have the impression that there are too many cattle; there need to be fewer, and they should be better controlled via fencing
  • There has been no public consultation over cattle; the NT should have consulted widely
  • Subsequent to the meeting it was pointed out that one reason for the cattle traversing the escarpment was that the water trough(s) are only situated at the foot of the hill and that investment on troughs at the top of the hill might improve the situation.

The following responses/suggestions were made by the NT:

  • The NT do not own livestock
  • The NT are legally obliged to maintain grassland; this includes not only sheep grazing, but must include cattle too to avoid the loss of other habitat, and in order to avoid Tor Grass; this supports conservation
  • Generally cattle will not be present during the winter months; exact timing depends on the weather
  • Signs on gates are a possibility, but not on stiles as there too many
  • The NT are looking towards creating 3 or 4 larger paddocks (rather than a single grazing area)
  • There is a gate issue under consideration by the NT – visitors opening closing gates randomly makes control of grazing difficult (or results in cattle escapes)
  • To completely eliminate cattle/people interaction additional fencing only possible to create  corridors would be needed – not considered a good idea by the NT
  • There was agreement to put more warning signs up
  • It was suggested the Parish Council act between the NT and residents, and put a notice on the website
  • Walkers could feed observations to the NT (Ranger contact details below)
  • People could help the NT move cattle to understand their behaviour more – as part of the NTs community engagement days.
  • It is very important dog walkers keep their dogs properly controlled, as a badly behaved dog can cause a heifer to become agitated and charge down along a pathway

Since the meeting on 9th July, there has been the following comment from the NT (email from Graham Wellfare):

Signs and Fencelines:
We will try to modify the sign to be more Fulking specific – however this may take some time. The new fencelines will need to be completed first. However, I would like to point out that Fulking is just one part of our 2,500 acre estate (with 3 rangers to manage it) and we have similar issues on all of these hills which means progress can sometimes feel slow.

Without a significant investment water will never be at the top of the hill, as much as we would like it to be. This is because it would need to be pumped up from the nearest mains (or possibly the spring). We looked at something similar at Devil’s Dyke and it would have cost over £50,000.

Reducing numbers:
The farmer has been asked to take another 25 cows and calves off. I will let you know when we have these moved.

By the way, people might like to see the aerial footage of Fulking escarpment on the link below – it also gives you a good feel of how much land we care for.

Take an aerial flight around the Devil’s Dyke Estate