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Council swaps lawnmowers for cows

November 18, 2011 12:14 AM

Sutton Council is swapping lawnmowers for grazing cattle to keep rare chalk grasslands in check.

Sussex cattle, a native South East England breed, will be brought in to take care of Roundshaw Downs.

It is hoped that the scheme will give wildlife living on the grasslands extra help by increasing the number of wildflowers and insects and helping to protect ground-nesting birds like skylarks.

The cattle will keep weeds, shrubs and other hardy plants in check. If left alone, these plants would overrun the Downs, choking out rarer, more delicate flowers and upsetting the fragile ecosystem.

Ditching machinery will also save the council up to £2,000 a year by reducing mowing.

Cllr Colin Hall, Executive Member for Environment and Climate Change on Sutton Council, said: "This is an innovative way of helping to preserve Sutton's rare chalk grasslands. The Downs can support up to 50 different species of plants within one square metre, and bringing in grazing cattle will help the plants and animals that live there to flourish.

"It's also a great way of bringing a little bit of the countryside into the city, and will give local children the chance to see farmyard animals right on their doorsteps."

Described at the Norman invasion in 1066, Sussex cattle are one of the UK's oldest breeds. Modern cows are descended from horned, red cattle which grazed the forests and woodlands that covered the Downs hundreds of years ago.

The borough's largest nature reserve is made up of chalk grasslands, an unusual habitat which, in the UK, is very rarely found outside the south east. The thin, chalky soil can support an incredibly diverse range of plants and animals, including rare breeds like the greater yellow rattle, small blue butterflies and meadow pipits, many of which cannot thrive anywhere else.

The cows will be looked after by welfare experts from the (Heritage Lottery Funded) Old Surrey Downs Project and will live in a secure enclosure, which members of the public and dog walkers will be free to use.

The plans are set to go ahead after a year of consultation with residents and modification to proposals showed that most people are in favour of the scheme. Plans were agreed unanimously at the Beddington and Wallington Local Committee on 11 October.