After an absence of more that two years, long horn cattle are once again at large in Wanstead Park.
Quinine, Nina and Mara will be with us for a number of weeks. They will stay as long as the park’s grass and foliage provides sufficient nourishment to meet their needs.
To ease their return to Wanstead Park, which is the part of Epping Forest most frequented by humans, local volunteers will be around to answer questions and give advice. So far over twenty have offered to help and more enquires are coming in.
English longhorns are very placid creatures. That is an important reason why that breed has been chosen. But they are large, they have big horns and will defend themselves if they feel threatened. So people will be advised to keep their distance. Children should not be encouraged to pat the beasts and dogs should be under control.
They will be grazing in part of Wanstead Park. They will also be browsing in part of it’s woodland. This area is controlled by a GPS system which allows their range to be limited and adjusted as need dictates. To begin with, their range will consist of the plain east of the path between the Temple and the tea hut and north of the Perch Pond. Here’s a map:
John Phillips, Grazing and Landscape Team Leader at Epping Forest, explained the difference explained the difference between grazing and browsing to the assembled volunteers. Longhorns can happily ingest both grasses (grazing) and more woody material and foliage (browsing).
As a result, these cattle can keep the grassland of the plain clear of invasive vegetation while keeping the anthills clear of shade. This enables the anthills’ teeming inmates to stay warm enough to make their important contribution to the ecology. No mechanical means of managing the plain could do as good a job as these cattle while preserving the anthills.
The woodland is likewise kept clear of excessive undergrowth and invasive species. All in all, as well as being great favourites with visitors to the park, they do a great job for the environment.
They are assisted in this by innumerable insects. John pointed out that there are more species below ground than above and they all make their contribution to the creation and maintenance of healthy, fertile soil and a balanced eco-system.
The prince among this army of small ecologists is, of course, the dung beetle whose very useful life is dependant upon the droppings that cattle produce.
So if you tread in a cow pat, remember that it’s full of helpful nutrients.