The importance of livestock as a conservation tool being recognised yet again.
Grazing cattle are being introduced to a New Forest nature reserve acquired by the RSPB to help conservation work.
The RSPB started to create the Franchises Lodge nature reserve in 2018 after buying 386 hectares of woodland on the Hampshire-Wiltshire border.
A herd of Ruby Devon Cows will begin clearing the areas “unmanaged growth”, the RSPB said.
It is hoped the herd will help maintain a healthy woodland and keep invasive species at bay, the charity added.
The formerly privately-owned land was given to the nation in a tax settlement and was bought with the help of a £200,000 grant from the New Forest National Park Authority in 2018.
Described by the RSPB as a “secret forest”, the area has not been grazed by livestock in a century.
Site manager Richard Snelling said the cattle would play a”vital part” in restoring the reserve to mostly broadleaf tree species.
“The presence of the cattle in turn helps maintain a healthy woodland, keeping invasive species at bay, eliminating competition for growth on the forest floor and allowing some of the forest’s rarest and most valuable flora to flourish,” he said.
New Forest commoner Andrew Parry-Norton, who owns the herd of cattle, said the site would provide “back-up grazing” when his animals were not on the open forest.
“It’s not just the land that benefits from this free-roaming grazing. The more natural diet leads to healthier cows, in turn producing higher quality beef,” he added.
New Forest commoners live in properties with ancient rights attached, including ones allowing them to graze animals on the open forest.