Cows are coming to Studland Bay!

Julia Galbenu

Have you spotted any new faces at Studland Bay? From April ten arty cows will be unveiled on the dunes. Our young artists have taken the lead on this, and the cows have been painted by Swanage School, Sandford Primary, Purbeck Youth Club, Stoborough Primary, Dorset Wellbeing and students from Arts University Bournemouth. There are ten arty cows to find and they have been dotted from Shell Bay into the dunes behind. So, as well as doing our Easter trail at Knoll Beach, attempt our arty cow challenge at Shell Bay!

Our ten arty cows represent the actual cows that are coming to Studland this Summer. The real thing may be a little less colourful, but certainly no less exciting. Red Devon cattle will begin grazing Studland’s dunes this year and will help restore this magical place by providing habitats for rare and special life.

Sand Lizard. Image: Natalie Hunt
Sand Lizard. Image: Natalie Hunt

Sand dunes are now recognised as the habitat most at risk in Europe. At Studland, rapid vegetation growth has smothered the dunes, open sandy habitats are vanishing, and rare wildlife is declining. Our sand dunes need some help to get them back to their healthy and dynamic ways. Over the past year, everyone has been hard at work – volunteers have been clearing invasive species, removing litter, recording data, engaging visitors, while contractors have been clearing some of the dense vegetation and creating areas of sandy habitats. In the 1930s, Studland Bay was more than 15% bare sand and that number is now less than 2%. Our aim is to raise that number to 10%, and this summer the Red Devon cattle will add to our efforts.

The cows will graze the densely vegetated areas of the dunes, well away from the beach and the busiest paths, at the centre of Studland Bay. They will feed mainly on purple moor grass and willow in the wet areas, but they will also trample through the heather and gorse and help keep our new sandy spaces open. We have chosen Red Devon cattle, which have previously grazed National Trust sites in Purbeck, because we know that they are calm and docile creatures. You may spot a distant cow if you are walking through the dunes or along Northern Boundary. If you do see the cattle, please do not approach or disturb them and keep your dogs at a safe distance. Taking all your litter home also keeps our cows safe and our dunes beautiful.

julai cow 1

Something unusual about our cows is that they will not be enclosed using physical fences. Instead we will be using a new technology known as virtual fencing, where boundaries are drawn up using a smartphone. The cows will be wearing collars, which detect and react to these virtual boundaries. Our cattle will be checked daily by the grazier, and because the collars have GPS, we can also track the animals and always know where they are. To ensure the safety of people and cattle, we have also installed a back-up fence with access gates along Ferry Road. There are many benefits to virtual fencing: people and wildlife can move freely and there’s no intrusive fencing, so enjoy the view. The system also allows us to monitor cattle behaviour and we can easily adjust the fence line to exclude sensitive habitats or busy areas.

Fancy getting involved?

Our cattle need ambassadors, people that are passionate about Studland’s dunes, the wildlife and the role cattle have in dune restoration. Volunteer with us and help look after our cattle, showcase custodianship and engage with members of the public. Email for details and keep an eye on our website and social media for updates!

julia volunteers
Julia - Dorset

About the Author

Julia Galbenu
Engagement Officer, National Trust Studland Bay

When I enter the dunes, I could be anywhere in the world. I feel a sense of true wilderness as the sand towers over me and the birds take to the skies. I love to kick up the sand and find new trails off the main path. We now know that such disturbance is critical to maintain the dunes’ ever moving state. I am so excited to be part of this new approach to nature conservation, where the dunes need people and people most certainly need the dunes.