John Philips, Grazing and Landscape Projects Officer at Epping Forest, reports on the City of London Corporation’s successful cattle-grazing trial in Wanstead Park. Photo by Geoff Wilkinson
In our modern world, there is a huge disconnect between the natural world, farming activities and the end-users who benefit from them. A generation or two ago, the memories will be stored of working the land, if only in the summer holidays as a reprieve from city life. This transmission of custodianship and behaviours around these land-based activities have sadly become a distant memory.
The social impact of the cows’ presence in Wanstead Park surpassed our expectations. We had a huge response from local people wanting to get involved with the cows and have been continually taken back by the positive response from regular park users and visitors alike.
The park is not only a refuge for wildlife in an urban area but also for its local people. Getting to work with these large animals daily, it is not lost on me, the calming effect of seeing them in a natural environment, existing, free from the trappings of the human’s higher sense of self and expectation.
The cows’ main job while in the park was to remove vegetation created from the carbon cycle and return it as plant and insect food. This removal around the anthills is especially important to allow solar energy to penetrate the earth to warm up the hills.
Acid grasslands are at risk and diminishing due to nitrification through air pollution and dog faeces, which allows more aggressive, faster-growing plant species to proliferate. The cows help reduce the vegetational mass in a patchwork, reducing competition for sunlight, which allows for slower-growing plants and grasses to survive. This patchwork of varying heights also creates habitat for insects to breed, hunt and perch.
The cows – Quinine, Nina and Nuru – have moved on now, having completed their work. Quinine – who is pregnant – will head back to our farm in Theydon Bois and will graze in adjacent fields to the buildings until she calves. Nuru and Nina are not pregnant, so will travel to Chingford Plain to graze until ground conditions start to deteriorate.
The trial has been a huge success and has secured grazing becoming an annual fixture at Wanstead Park, managed by the City of London Corporation. We would like to thank everyone involved, especially volunteers and local park users, including dog walkers who have had to modify their use of the park to help make this a success.