Belties on Grasslands
Once again we will be grazing parts of Horsell Common during the summer months to assist us with conservation management. Scrub encroachment is a constant threat to Wildlife. Unless managed, pine and birch trees and some grasses start to dominate making open areas unsuitable for many species. Years ago, people grazed their cattle and sheep on local heaths and commons. These ancient landscapes became rich wildlife habitats. Now, hundreds of years later, the key to survival for many endangered species is the continuation of these traditional practices.
This year, we have six Belted Galloway yearling steers (castrated males). The cattle are a hardy primitive breed which are a scarce breed nationally, though they have now been removed from the Rare Breed Survival Trust’s “at risk” list. Their meat is highly prized but due to their slow growth rates and size, do not lend themselves to modern commercial meat production. The gene line of the animals now on Grasslands Common is from Dartmoor but these animals are first generation Surrey progeny, being born at Wisley and raised at Ash Ranges as part of the Surrey Wildlife Trust conservation grazing herd. The breed is known to prosper and has evolved to survive on very rough, poor grazing primarily in Galloway, South West Scotland.
Belted Galloways or “Belties” as they are affectionately known are small docile animals that do not have horns and are typically distinguished by their white “belt”. Black with a white belt is most common, but dun and red also occur occasionally with the body almost the same colour as the belt. With their diminutive size, thick curly hair and big eyes the Belted Galloways do appear very cute, but visitors to the Common will find the animals stand -offish and happier to leave the company of humans, so best to view them from afar.
The Belted Galloway has a magnificent winter coat, which comprises a double layer of hair to give excellent insulation from the cold. There is a long “overcoat” which readily sheds the rain and snow and helps keep the animal dry, and a very soft, mossy “undercoat” which traps the warmth and gives the Beltie the ability to maintain its body weight with 20 – 25% less food intake in cold weather. In hot weather, the coat is shed to a fine cover of hair.
We would like to enlist the help of visitors to the common to let us know if they see any problems with the cattle or anything they are unsure of. We would also be extremely grateful if any regular visitors to the site, who may see the cattle on a regular basis, could get in touch with us to see if they would like to join our band of volunteer cattle checkers. Though daily cattle checks are a legal requirement, this isn’t an onerous task if someone is visiting the site anyway. It can be as simple as cattle present or not, and cattle seem happy or there might be a problem – it’s as easy as that. If you would like to help Please call PaulRimmer on 07860 712503 or email firstname.lastname@example.org
Our grateful thanks goes to Marcus Turley and Jenny Page of The Surrey Heathland Project for their assistance, and to James Adler and the livestock team at the Surrey Wildlife Trust for the supply of the cattle.