National Park Drovers Project
The Drovers Project is a two year project managed by Northumberland
National Park Authority with partnership funding from the
Heritage Lottery Fund, the Countryside Agency, English
Nature and the National Trust. Started in 2003 the project
has now been running for just over a year, and is set to
draw to a close in May 2005.
The project aims to highlight
the value of traditional breeds of cattle in grazing for
conservation value on sites of key natural habitats. These
traditional breeds include the Galloway, Blue Grey,
Whitebred Shorthorn and others. These breeds are distinctive
in their appearance and as such contribute to the local
character of Northumberland. The Blue Grey in particular
formed the majority of upland suckler herds in the National
Park area about 40 years ago, popular due to their hardy
character and ability to do well on poor pasture with minimal
|Part of the
Hotbank herd of Whitebred Shorthorn, Galloway and
Blue Grey Cattle
However, in recent years, traditional cattle breeds have
been largely overshadowed by continental breeds such as
the Charolais, Simmental and Limousin. A traditional breeds
survey undertaken as part of the Drovers project revealed
the extent of the decline in numbers of our native cattle
Continental cattle, with their leaner appearance and faster
maturing attributes were felt to be better suited to the
changing beef production systems and markets. Although
popular with many farmers from a commercial viewpoint,
these breeds are less able to maintain the nature conservation
value of key habitats found within the National Park, such
as upland mires and areas of heather regeneration.
As such, traditional breeds have developed a vital new
role in helping to maintain the biodiversity of the uplands
through grazing sites for conservation objectives, such
as those within the Drovers Project.
At the forefront of such work are the Galloway and its
cross the Blue Grey, widely regarded as being unrivalled
as conservation grazing animals, and increasingly being
recognised for their ability to graze rough grassland habitats
in particular. The broader grazing preferences of breeds
such as the Blue Grey reduce the cover of rank grasses
such as Purple Moor Grass and open up the sward to encourage
greater species diversity.
on Cragend during the 2004 grazing season
The first site to be
grazed under a Drovers project agreement was Cragend
on Hotbank Farm, in the Hadrians Wall area of the National
Park. This site has now been grazed for two seasons,
for a period of 10 weeks each. The objective for this
site has been to use Galloway and Blue Grey cattle to
reduce the dominance of Purple Moor Grass (Molinia caerulea)
in order to open up the vegetation sward to allow greater
species diversity and to encourage heather regeneration.
Purple moor grass is only palatable for a short length
of time during the summer, generally June to September,
hence the relatively short grazing period. After this
time it becomes dry and coarse and cattle will move onto
other vegetation, which may lead to damage to heather
etc, so the cattle are removed from the site at this
As part of the project we are undertaking monitoring
of the cattle behaviour on site through daily records
of location and activity during the grazing seasons.
This information allows behaviour patterns to be identified
and assessments of how different parts of the sites are
being used by the cattle. Once the cattle are removed
from the sites post-grazing vegetation monitoring is
undertaken. The results from this are compared with baseline
data for the sites, where available, and to results from
last year to infer conclusions
regarding the impact the cattle have had on the sites.
So far results have been promising, with the cattle having
a considerable impact upon the rank grass species such
as purple moor grass and causing little damage to sensitive
habitats such as mires.
The Drovers project is also aiming
to research the cultural associations of such traditional
breeds, and the history of cattle droving in the area,
which was at its peak between the 16th and 18th centuries.
As part of the project we are requesting stories and anecdotes
relating to the keeping of traditional cattle, and to droving.
National Park Hosts Traditional Breed Hot Beef Tasting at Alwinton Show