Conservation and habitat management
Hengistbury Head, along with our other main Local Nature Reserves (LNRs), has a management plan setting out the key objectives and a management programme. The management programme is informed by monitoring and research data.
On Hengistbury Head, we have a herd of cattle, mainly Shetlands, and a small flock of sheep, again mainly Shetlands.
These breeds are very hardy, they are used to living in exposed locations with low quality grazing.
In recent times, Hengistbury Head has had its own Shetland Bull, Acer. Acer was born on site, and fathered a number of the cattle you will see walking around the Reserve today. He has since moved to a farm near Durham, where his bloodline is under-represented.
Bloodlines are important to Shetland Cattle, back in the 1960’s, they were considered critically endangered, with around 60 animals left worldwide. Only four of these animals were bulls and so each and every Shetland cow you see today is from the bloodline of one of those four bulls, so it is important that in-breeding is minimised and the most is made from the animals that exist now. With thanks to the breeds versatility and durability, it is no longer endangered and is one of the favourite choices of nature reserve managers.
Why grazing is important
The cattle and the sheep both affect the wildlife and habitats that are here. Without management, many of our habitats would develop with age, as an example, meadows would become dominated with grass and then scrub, such as bramble. Scrub is very important component of some habitats, it provides nesting opportunities for birds and it can be a food plant for a great many invertebrates. However, having lost 97% of our wildflower meadows in the past 100 years as well as many of the species that survive on them, it is important that we don’t allow our habitats to become dominated by other plants, like bramble.
The action of grazing prevents the dominance by grass and they also create bare ground, which provides opportunities for wildflowers to germinate. Barn Field, adjacent to the Visitor Centre, is a great example of the benefits of grazing, the collection of plant species here represent a very ancient community. These types of meadows attract other rare species, including birds such as Skylarks and Meadow Pipits, and moths including the 6-spot Burnet.