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 December 2017 (Miles Firth, also Chair of Parish Council)

Dear Mr Wellfare,
During a meeting with the Fulking Parish Council in July 2015, you stated that “Generally cattle will not be present during the winter months; exact timing depends on the weather”, this was clarified as March to October, the purpose being to protect the ground during the wet months.
I attach a photograph taken today of the South Downs Way which shows cattle and the effect that they have had on this major public right of way. Cows in mud on DownsThis is now almost impassable for walkers and cyclists. This is just one example; other footpaths and bridleways not on the top of the escarpment are in worse condition and probably hazardous to the public. Last year over the Christmas and New Year period I also photographed cattle on the escarpment.
Please explain why you have not honoured your commitment made at that meeting, which was held at the request of the local community.
Miles Firth (copied to South Downs National Park Ranger and West Sussex County Council Footpaths Dept)

Dear Mr Firth,
Apologies I have only just picked up your email and I am now on annual leave over Christmas.
I have copied Charlie Cain should you wish to follow this up in the meantime – he is in tomorrow.
As a quick note I have asked Nick Harvey to put out some feed blocks in the far western top field of Fulking escarpment (radar field) to keep the cattle away from the South Downs Gate you mention.
I have asked when he will be taking off his cattle and replacing with sheep but havent heard anything back.
However, I believe the main issue here was that the field gate was kept being left open and the cattle were used to going into the eastern end of Fulking escarpment. Hence them gathering at this point.
I did personally drive through here only a couple of weeks ago and it was relatively dry.
Unfortunately I don’t have time to address the other issues but I can contact you in the New Year if Charlie hasn’t done so in the meantime.

Dear Miles
Happy New Year and I hope you had a good Christmas.
In response to your email just before Christmas I have clarified some points with Nick Harvey, the grazier and Charlie Cain head ranger at Devil’s Dyke.
Nick Harvey will be taking off his cattle in about 2 weeks time and replacing with sheep.
I have been keeping an eye on the poaching at various points and at the beginning of December the gate mentioned wasn’t too bad and relatively dry. However, now it is much wetter he has put some feed blocks west and off the South Downs Way in response to your concerns regarding this gate.
Last year Charlie met up with a grants officer from Natural England, who are the funding body for environmental stewardship schemes. Fulking escarpment is in one of these schemes.
There was concern that the Tor grass on the slopes was increasing and we were asked to keep the cattle on for longer over winter as this is really the only time they will be forced onto these patches (they generally spend most of the summer on the better grass at the top of the hill).
I know Charlie has already emphasised the importance of managing Tor grass to you, as it can smother all the more delicate flowers, mosses and invertebrates that live on chalk grassland. Chalk grassland is an internationally rare habitat and Fulking is part of the Beeding Hill to Newtimber Site of Special Scientific interest, which means its one of the countries most important downland sites.
We are under a strict obligation to comply with Natural England’s requirements otherwise we may be liable to some very heavy fines.
With regard to the other issues brought up at the meeting in 2015 – signage and fences. We have spent a considerable amount of time and money realigning fences and designing clearer signage and also making sure signs are in the correct position at the right time. We hope this has allayed some of your worries brought up at the same meeting about visitors not knowing where stock are and having pinch points where stock congregate.
Please feel free to contact me or Charlie over this matter if you wish.

Hi Graham,
While I can now understand that you may be under pressure to maintain funding (or avoid fines) from Natural England, the widespread level of damage apparent from leaving Cattle on the Downs during the winter months (which you promised would not happen) would appear to be damaging the very sites you are trying to improve in the first place. However, that is up to you to balance these environmental conflicts.
More importantly, like all landowners, you also have a general responsibility to minimise damage to Public Rights of Way and reduce hazards presented to recreational users of the escarpment.  Leaving the cattle in place all year round does not help with this – replacing the cattle with sheep might improve things.
If you check my original note you will see that my concerns are not just about the area in the photo, there are about all the footpaths and bridleways in the area, particularly the lower ones.
Best regards,

Update April 2017 (Anonymous, report via Parish Council)

Hi Graham,
On behalf of Fulking Parish Council I am sending you a report (below) of a recent incident that one of our long established residents experienced.
We discussed at our various meetings that we should keep a dialogue going on this topic.
In my opinion, this person is a very level headed and sensible, someone who delights in the outdoor experience the downs provide. They didn’t want to draw attention to their experience on our website, but felt that you should be aware of these type of incidents.
Please would you provide a response so that we can pass this on to the individual and continue to make the community more aware.
Best regards,
Miles Firth
Chairman, Fulking Parish Council

On 14.4.17 I was walking the dog on the footpath leading  down from the top of the Escarpment about 9 am when we  encountered cattle with calves, that were lying down. I put  the dog on the leash and passed calmly through them [not  very close, as they were well spaced out, and the calves were not disturbed] but after we  had passed one cow charged us at full tilt, heading downhill  directly at us. It was quite a difficult situation with the  barbed wire fence on one side and a sheer slope on the other  [down which the cow was charging]. Nothing happened, as not being worried  by cattle, I dropped the dog’s lead [he dodged and then  waited calmly for me to deal with the situation] and made as  if towards the cow, shouting and waving my arms, and at the  last moment it veered away. However it could have been quite dangerous in this  sheer place if a walker had been frightened of cattle or had  not known to let the dog go. I am just reporting this as it  is worth logging such incidents. We were on the footpath and  there was no other route we could have taken because of the [fairly recently  erected] barbed wire fence.

Hello Miles,
Thank you for alerting us to the incident on Fulking recently. I can assure you both the National Trust and Nick Harvey take these matters very seriously.
As you will probably be aware we have recently moved fencelines to make larger paddocks in order to reduce the possibility of coming across cows and calves in narrow corridors. In our minds this has worked well. However, it would be useful to know exactly where the incident took place – is it possible to have the contact details of the person involved so we can ascertain this?
I have spoken to the grazier, Nick Harvey, and he assures me that he selects his cattle very carefully to up onto the hill.
As he ear tags the calves (when they are off the hill) he is constantly checking mum to see if there is any aggression towards him. Any cow that shows the slightest bit of aggression wont be put on the hill.
Again, it would be useful if the person could contact us to let us know whether there were any distinguishing marks on the cow so Nick can keep an eye out for it.
I also attach a new sign that will imminently be put up on stiles and gates on Fulking. Currently we have our old stile signs up but your comments on the new sign would be useful.
Please bear in mind that signs are rarely read fully and not always adhered to, so the less writing the better.
I am sure you are aware of the importance in grazing for its value in keeping the special qualities of the downs, keeping the farming tradition going and also the role it plays in people’s access to Fulking (no grazing would mean the hill would quickly be covered in brambles and scrub and access would be severely limited)
I look forward to reply

Hi Graham,
Thank you for looking into this and for responding so promptly – this sort of dialogue is really helpful to us as community representatives.
I have passed on your request for identification to the person involved, but I suspect it would be hard to remember this correctly unless they noted the tag number.
I didn’t realise that there was a policy of removing aggressive animals, it’s a sensible idea – although I suppose it’s a contradiction to ask people to get close enough to read the tag. Perhaps a (mobile phone) photo, from a distance would be a good plan.
The new sign does seem to be quite an improvement. Two points spring to mind:
They do need to be posted on as many access points as possible and ‘maintained’, as many of the current versions fall off or are removed over time
We did ask previously for reference to be made (on these notices) of the normal times that cattle will be on the Downs through the year.  At our last meeting you said that they were absent between October and March. Walkers need to know what to expect.
I suppose that the other thing that would help avoid the incidents would be siting the water troughs at the top of the escarpment, to avoid the need for the cattle to make the daily transit from top to bottom.  Any progress with that?
Many thanks for your help.

Update January 2017 (Miles Firth)

Cattle charged family member, no dog involved. No obvious reason, cattle involved frightened off by vigorous arm waving and noise. Not reported to NT.

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