We have been investigating putting cattle back to graze on Nansen Hill, in partnership with our neighbours the National Trust who already do graze the neighbouring fields. Although we had no plans to start grazing this year, as it turned out, late in November the cattle took things into their own hands and broke through the fence at the top of the site. About nine animals were on Nansen Hill for about ten days. We decided to leave them there for a little while to see how things went, and you may have noticed the signs we put up at the entrance points to let people know that the cattle were on the field. The cattle seemed happy on the site and managed to graze back some areas a bit, and so they are now safely back in the NT fields and we’re considering how to take this forward.
Why graze downs?
Chalk downland is a grazed habitat, and if it isn’t grazed, eventually it will return to woodland. Nationally protected sites such as Nansen Hill are particularly sensitive, because the effect on the rare plants, butterflies and animals on the down is particularly important to get right. A certain amount of mowing is possible but grazing is far more effective – and considerably cheaper. That is why the vast majority of downland on the Island (like Culver, Brading, Rew Down, Tennyson Down, and nearby Ventnor Down) are all grazed.
In the past Nansen Down was grazed at times, but in recent years this has not happened much and the scrub had started to grow back. Since 2010 there has been a sustained programme of cutting back bushes to let the delicate chalk flowers and grasses thrive, and now large areas of Nansen Hill are open downland again – so we want to keep them that way.
What’s happening now?
The cattle are no longer on the down so for now the site goes back to how it was earlier in the year. But next autumn or winter, we hope to repeat the experiment and get the cattle on for longer, maybe a few months. We’ve inspected the fences and we need to do some more work to them. The main gate onto the road also needs to be changed to make it safer. One of the two troughs is redundant and will be removed in due course. We will be doing this work over 2017.
If there are any stock going back on the down we will be putting a sign on the gates again, so keep an eye out for that.