PICTURES: Bluebells blooming thanks to Snowdonia cattle

Three highland cattle are helping bluebells bloom again in one Snowdonia wood.

The National Trust introduced cows Myfi, Wmffre and Hugo to Coed Ganllwyd on the charity’s Dolmelynllyn Estate in 2015. Livestock had been excluded from the woods for the past 40 years.

Highland cow 1

A highland cow grazing at the National Trust’s Dolmelynllyn Estate. Credit: National Trust

Rhodri Wigley, National Trust ranger, said: “Before the cattle arrived it was quite overgrown. The understorey was thick with brambles.”

The hardy cattle, which spend all year on the estate’s woods, help tackle the thick bramble on the woodland floor – allowing more delicate plants like bluebells and wild garlic to break through.

highland cow 2

A highland cow grazing at the National Trust’s Dolmelynllyn Estate. Credit: National Trust

Rhodri said: “The heifer has two big horns which she uses to pull down branches and eat the leaves.

“The grazing makes a massive difference. You can see through the woods now. Last year we saw a lot more wild garlic in the woods – and it’s an even bigger area of garlic this year.”

Rangers regularly move the cattle between parcels of woodland on the estate. Once the cattle have cleared the brambles they hope to introduce sheep from local farmers.


Swimming cows make a dash for island pastures on Strangford Lough

The grass was definitely greener on the other side of the lough for a herd of cattle in County Down, when they attempted to swim back to their island grazing pastures last month.

Eight cows took to Northern Ireland’s Strangford Lough after their return to the mainland from a stint grazing on Darragh Island.

Farmers have moved cattle between the islands on Strangford Lough for generations, in the pursuit of fresh grass.

And National Trust rangers regularly transport sheep and cattle between the 12 islands the conservation charity cares for on the sea lough.

Will Hawkins, National Trust ranger at Strangford Lough, said: “We had a tricky job getting them on to the barge. We left a group of cows on the mainland and we were just coming back with the others when a few of the cows decided to swim back to the boat.”

After a few seconds in the water they changed their minds and headed back to the mainland.

“The cows like being on the islands,” Will said. “Other than a couple of kayakers there’s nobody else on the islands. The cows are free to roam.”

The grazing cattle help rangers encourage wildflowers to grow on the islands.

“The way the cows graze and ‘poach’ the ground with their hooves means we get flowers like dog violet coming through.

“It’s like a sea of purple on some of the islands in the spring.”

The cattle belong to the Dines family, one of the last Strangford Lough farming families to graze their animals on islands.

National Trust AGM outcomes 2013

National Trust members today (Saturday 26 October) voted against a members’ resolution to introduce an immediate and widespread badger vaccination programme on the charity’s land.

The resolution was suggested by a group of members to help tackle bovine TB and prevent National Trust land being involved in a cull of badgers if one is rolled out by the Government next year.

The charity’s Trustees stressed that their recommendation against the resolution did not mean that the Trust is in favour of culling badgers, and they will take on board the views expressed by many members as part of the AGM debate.

The Trust advocates an evidence based approach to tackling bovine TB which covers an integrated package of measures, including those to improve biosecurity and prevent cattle-to-cattle transmission.

“This is an emotive issue on all sides of the debate,” said Patrick Begg from the National Trust.

“We are in favour of doing what works to solve the problem that is affecting so many of our tenants and farmers across the country.

“Vaccination is our long term preference, both of badgers and cattle, but our badger vaccination trial at Killerton in Devon is only half way through.  It may prove costly and hard to administer in practice.

“We have deep concerns about how useful the Government’s pilot badger culls will now prove, and have sought assurances from them that they remain committed to upholding high standards of scientific rigour in the conduct and analysis of the pilots.  Changes to the original design has shaken our confidence.

“We will judge the outcomes of the pilots, and the Government’s subsequent approach, against the criteria for success set out by Professor Bourne in his review of the Randomised Badger Culling Trial.”

The results of the member votes were:

  • Badger vaccination: 7,808 for the resolution, 8,694 against.
  • Fairtrade tea: 7,337 for the resolution, 9,036 against.

The following members were also elected to the Trust’s Council:

  • John Godfrey, 10,708
  • Rosie Corner, 9,735
  • Irving Lord, 8,175
  • Cristina George, 9,918
  • Geoffrey Nickolds, 7,397
  • John Lyon, 7,548
  • Dylan Williams, 8,406
  • Roseanne Williams, 7,875
  • Caroline Goodall, 9,781
  • Rupert Thorp, 7,524


[1] More information on the members’ resolutions, including the full resolution and the trustee response, is available here:

Statement on bovine TB and badger culling

Patrick Begg, Rural Enterprise Director at the National Trust, said: “The National Trust is not involved in the pilot cull in Gloucestershire.

“We are strong supporters of vaccination as the long-term solution to this pressing problem. This is why we are running a badger vaccination programme at Killerton to help demonstrate the practicality of vaccinating badgers.

“We have consistently argued that any approach to tackling bovine TB in cattle should be science-led. All of the evidence points to the need for a comprehensive and multi-pronged approach to prevent transmission of the disease. This should include more rigorous measures to stop cattle-to-cattle, cattle-to-badger and badger-to-badger transmission.

“In England, we wouldn’t stand in the way of a pilot badger cull providing it was carried out according to best scientific advice. However, even if any pilots reduce TB in cattle, we don’t believe it will be possible to meet successful cull criteria over much larger areas.”

For a video on our vaccination programme and more information on this issue, visit our position statement:

Research reveals that grass-fed beef is better for people and the environment

Feeding cattle on grass throughout their lifecycle is the most environmentally sustainable way to rear beef, according to new research for the National Trust.

One of the biggest global challenges is how to increase food security whilst reducing the environmental impacts of food production.

Livestock – like cattle and sheep – produce high levels of methane as part of the process of digesting grass.  This has led to suggestions that intensive production methods – where cattle are fed largely on cereals, producing less methane – should be preferred over more traditional grass fed livestock farming.

However, in a report [1] issued today, research at 10 Trust farms shows that while the carbon footprint of grass-fed and conventional farms were comparable, the carbon sequestration contribution of well-managed grass pasture [2] on the less intensive systems reduced net emissions by up to 94 per cent, even resulting in a carbon ‘net gain’ in upland areas.  The farms that had recently converted to organic status showed even greater gains.

Rob Macklin, National Agriculture and Food Adviser at the National Trust, said: “The results are contrary to recent thinking that livestock farming methods must intensify further in order to lessen carbon emissions to feed an ever-increasing world population.”

“Maximising carbon efficiency alone is too simplistic.  Many less intensive livestock systems would be classed ‘inefficient’ on the carbon emission scale, yet are much less reliant on artificial inputs and tend to have less impacts on water quality, loss of soil organic matter and reduced biodiversity.

“We believe that optimised beef production – deliberately accommodating less than maximum output in order to secure stronger and broader ecosystem protection – is the best sustainable use for the grasslands in our care.

“The debate about climate change and food often calls for a reduction of meat consumption and a more plant based diet, but this often overlooks the fact that many grasslands are unsuitable for continuous arable cropping.

“Grasslands support a range of ecosystems services including water resources, biodiversity and carbon capture and storage.  Grazing livestock not only contributes to their maintenance but also turns grass into human-edible food.”

Other recent research [3] found that the health benefits of beef (and lamb) are greater when animals are fed totally on grass – their natural food.  Omega 3 fatty acids – recognised as essential to good physical and mental health – are higher in meat from grass and the levels of saturated fat are a third of grain fed beef.

Patrick Begg, Rural Enterprises Director at the National Trust, said: “This research is incredibly timely.  Policy makers across Europe and in the UK are having to tackle the issue of carbon-efficient food production right now.  The debate is all about bringing broader public benefits to the fore alongside food production and this research demonstrates how extensive, grass-fed beef should be at the heart of discussions.

“We need to find new market mechanisms which reward optimised rather than maximised beef production and as bodies like the Government’s Ecosystem Markets Task Force gather their thoughts we think this research demonstrates an area which is due some real focus.  Current Common Agricultural Policy reform discussions can also benefit from understanding what this research is telling us and, as the reform drives towards even stronger ‘greening’ of the payments farmers receive, we think management that delivers quality, grass-fed beef should be encouraged even more through agri-environment measures.

“We’ll be taking the findings forward with our tenants, policy makers and the industry to explore how we can develop a market advantage which supports a stronger grass-fed beef sector”.


[1] The research was carried out by sustainability consultants, Best Foot Forward and farm business consultants, the Laurence Gould Partnership in Autumn 2010.

The two assessors used PAS 2050 (PAS 2050 incorporates the greenhouse gas emissions potency of methane and nitrous oxide emissions using the carbon accounting unit of CO2 equivalent per live weight of beef produced) as well as developing additional scenarios to account for carbon sequestration by grassland and organic conversion and compared with other published life cycle studies on UK, US and Brazilian production methods.

They compared the carbon footprints of beef cattle raised on ten of the charity’s livestock farms in England, Wales and Northern Ireland; four organic, four conventional and two semi-intensive conventional in both upland and lowland areas.

The results show the average carbon footprint across the Trust farms was 21.5 kg CO2 equivalent per kg live weight of beef which were comparable with those from other studies in the UK.  See:

Taylor, RC et al (2010) ‘Measuring holistic carbon footprints for lamb and beef farms in the Cambrian Mountains’ Report for Countryside Council of Wales.

EBLEX (2010) ‘Test the Water – The English Beef and Sheep Production Environmental Roadmap – Phase 2.

Williams, AG Audsley E and Sandars, DL (2006) ‘Determining the environmental burdens and resource use in the production of agricultrual and horticultural commodities.  Main Report. Defra Research Project ISO 20.  Bedford: Cranfield University and Defra.

[2] Carbon sequestration is the capture of carbon dioxide (CO2).  All crops absorb CO2 during growth and release it after harvest.  The goal of agricultural carbon removal is to use the crop and its relation to the carbon cycle to permanently sequester carbon within the soil.  This is done by selecting farming methods that return biomass to the soil and enhance the conditions in which the carbon within the plants will be stored in a stable state.

[3] See: Wyness, L et al (2011) ‘Red meat in the diet: an update’ Nutrition Bulletin 36,1 pp.34-77.

Rule, DC et al (2002) ‘Comparison of muscle fatty acid profiles and cholesterol concentrations of bison, beef, cattle, elk and chicken’ J ANIM SCI 80 pp. 1202-1211.

Duckett, SK et al (1993) Effects of time on feed on beef nutrient composition J ANIM SCI 71pp. 2079-2088.