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Ancestors of Britain’s wild cattle return to ancient woodland

A herd of forty-five British White cattle is being returned to ancient woodland on the Blenheim Estate in Oxfordshire for the first time in more than a century.

The modern British White cattle breed has direct links with the ancient indigenous wild white cattle of Great Britain. It is hoped that by grazing the land and trampling down bracken, the livestock will clear space for acorns and encourage new tree growth.

Picture: Phil Yeomans

“The cattle are a traditional and low-tech way to control the growth of bracken within the woods,” said Blenheim Estate’s Herdsman, Richard Tustian.

“Historically livestock would have roamed across much of the Estate, including the woods, and by bringing them back we’re hoping to ensure these incredibly important ancient oak woodlands continue to survive and prosper for centuries to come.

Early in the 20th Century, the total number of herds had dropped to just seven with less than 150 individual cattle remaining. Now thanks to a resurgence in interest in rare and heritage breeds, their numbers have increased more than ten-fold.

Blenheim Estate’s High Park was originally created by Henry I as a deer park in the 12th Century and is home to the greatest number of ancient oak trees in Europe. At least 60 of its oak trees date back to the middle ages with High Park one of the most biodiverse habitats in the UK.

The ancient woodlands support hundreds of different protected species including around 190 different types of beetle and 21 butterfly and moth species. Other wildlife recorded in the forests include otters, water voles, lizards, grass snakes and great crested newts.

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