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Page last updated at 10:37 GMT, Monday, 2 August 2010 11:37 UK
Cattle and ponies graze on Holt Heath
Cattle in a field (generic)
Small numbers of cattle can "reverse deterioration" on the heath

Cattle and ponies are returning to Holt Heath near Wimborne for the first time in 50 years.

The joint project between the National Trust and Natural England aims to re-establish the pastoral landscape that Thomas Hardy would have recognised.

The heath will be grazed by 35 Angus cross cattle and six New Forest ponies.

They will cover over 400 hectares of rare lowland heathland which is a National Nature Reserve and a Site of Special Scientific Interest.

According to the National Trust these breeds are ideally suited to bringing the grass and gorse on the heath under control and enabling more delicate heathland plants to thrive.

Since World War II, the lack of grazing has resulted in the increase of scrub, while areas of wet heath have become overgrown with purple moor grass.

'Essential'

Nigel Chalk, garden and countryside manager for the National Trust said: "Relatively small numbers of cattle and ponies can reverse this deterioration.

"Browsing helps to suppress the growth of scrub and ponies will nibble the tender growing shoots of gorse which have not yet developed their sharp spines.

"On the wet heath, a mosaic of shorter patches of vegetation with taller patches in between will develop. This variety of vegetation height is crucial.

"Shorter patches are essential for many low-growing and small plants such as sundews and marsh gentian and they are also required by some ground-nesting birds and invertebrates."

It is wonderful to see grazing return to Holt Heath.
Ian Nicol from Natural England

A local estate tenant has been given the contract to look after the animals.

Cattle grids have been installed on two roads which cross the heath along with 11km (7 miles) of fencing and 30 new gates.

These have been funded by the Heritage Lottery Fund and Natural England.

There is also a new 40mph speed limit on the roads across the heath.

These changes mean the animals can range freely.

Ian Nicol, from Natural England, said: "It is wonderful to see grazing return to Holt Heath.

"We know from the re-establishment of grazing on many other heathland sites in Dorset that we will start to see the benefits in the structure and species composition of the vegetation within just a few years."




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