Call of the wild: How rare animals are feeding ‘rewilding’ ambitions
- Credit: Les Bunyan
A truly wild landscape needs wild and hungry groundskeepers – so Exmoor ponies, Red Poll cattle and Tamworth pigs have been let loose to nurture the biodiversity at a west Norfolk estate.
More than 1,000 acres of farmland are being given back to nature at Wild Ken Hill, between Snettisham and Heacham.
And the rare-breed beasts now roaming the “rewilding” project have been introduced for their mixture of grazing, browsing and soil disturbance – aiming to replicate the natural land-management behaviour of the wild herbivores that wandered through this landscape many thousands of years ago.
The hardy Exmoors will be well suited to a life in the wild. The estate says Exmoor ponies that have not been handled are usually difficult to get close to, and will typically run off when walkers or dogs get close, rather than confronting them.
Similarly the Red Polls, derived from the original cattle of Norfolk and Suffolk, can thrive on coarse vegetation and were also selected for their small stature and calm nature. The 30-strong herd is made up of cows, calves and heifers, and there are currently no bulls.
The cattle and ponies, along with the estate’s wild deer population, will graze and browse off vegetation in the hope it will help to create the healthy woodland pasture environment that is associated with high biodiversity. Their dung also helps to cycle nutrients, and they carry seeds around in their fur which helps vegetation to spread.
READ MORE: Beavers set to breed in Norfolk for the first time in centuriesAnd the new arrivals will join the two Tamworth pigs released into the rewilding area last month, aiming to replicate the behaviour of wild boar that lived here centuries ago. The Tamworths have a different role to the Red Poll and Exmoors – they disturb the soil, almost ploughing the top layer as they “rootle” in search of food. It is estimated that a mature Tamworth sow can disturb around 50 acres of topsoil in a year.
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This behaviour helps vegetation to regenerate, and could help to restore overgrown acid heathland.
Project manager Dominic Buscall said: “We are delighted to now have Red Poll cattle, Exmoor ponies, and Tamworth pigs all on site at Wild Ken Hill. Each of these species will enhance the variety of habitats here as part of our conservation, rewilding and sustainable farming work where we seek to be a national leader.
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“The herds will not only help graze down vegetation, but also assist with seed dispersal, nutrient cycling, soil disturbance, and a variety of important natural processes.”