Well, OK, maybe not THE cows of the century but certainly the first cows for OVER a century! Today was the first day in over 100 years that Roundshaw Downs LNR has heard a ‘moo’! Cattle haven’t been on site since at least the late 19th century, when part of the land used to be Cross Farm.
For the last 8 years or so, the Biodiversity Team have been planning on introducing cattle grazing to this chalk grassland site and today, all the work finally paid off as five head of super cute Sussex steers were released onto the South Paddock.

Welcome to your new home!

After very little persuasion (the rattle of some feed in a  bucket was enough), they trotted out of the stock trailer and onto their new home for the next five months or so.
They were soon off exploring their new surroundings but quickly seemed to settle into doing what they do best, low intensity grazing, which is exactly what they were brought onto site to do.

Munching away! (note the ‘Ikea Towers’ in the middle ground, Battersea Power station to the left of the communication tower and the Shard!)

Roundshaw Downs is about 38 ha of Local Nature Reserve and a Site of Metropolitan Importance for Nature Conservation, due to being our largest piece of land managed for nature conservation that occupies the chalk downland to the south of the borough. On a clear day, one can see across to the Wembley Arch to the west, the HSBC and Citibank buildings at Canary Wharf to the east, through to Battersea Power Station, the ‘Gherkin’ and the new Shard at London Bridge, some 16 miles or so away.

Amy Johnson, Croydon Aerodrome, February 1931

Although a well used suburban site, Roundshaw has an illustrious history, being, really, the cradle of aviation in the UK. The site used to be the Croydon Aerodrome, THE London airport from about 1915. Charles Lindbergh landed here shortly after completing the first trans-Atlantic flight and Amy Johnson left from Croydon to fly solo to Australia, amongst other early aviation luminaries.
However, the glory days were not to last much past World War II, when the advent of jet liners, too big to land at Croydon Airport, surrounded as it was (and is) by the suburban sprawl of Sutton and Croydon, needed the creation of new airports, Heathrow and Gatwick.

Greater yellow rattle

The once great city airport closed its runways to flights in 1959. Between then and now, much of the old aerodrome was developed but a sizeable chunk has remained and eventually became a nature reserve. With no agricultural improvements (fertilisers or pesticides), the grassland has flourished, with scarce wild flowers like greater yellow rattle and ground nesting birds, like skylarks and meadow pipits.

Small blue butterfly on kidney vetch

The grassland management over the years has been a ‘cut and remove’ on 1/3rd of the site each September / October. This has pretty much maintained the grassland and prevented too much scrub coming through but it just doesn’t provide exactly the right conditions that many of the specialist chalk grassland plants need to thrive, as they are out-competed by taller or more coarse vegetation, like false oat-grass. The cattle are now on site to help the wild flower specialists, as they evolved in balance with cattle grazing pressure over the last 8,000 years or so. We will be monitoring the grassland over the coming years to ensure that it receives just the right amount of grazing to help the delicate flowers and the insects that rely on them, like kidney vetch and the small blue butterfly.

Enjoying the salt lick!

A hardy, local, old breed, the Sussex cattle require nothing more than forage (the grassland), fresh water, a bit of the old salt lick AND, a bit of human assistance to help ensure that they are healthy and happy. We already have a few volunteer stock checkers on board for our rota but the more the merrier! So, if you want to learn how to do some basic animal welfare training, come speak to us on Saturday 3rd November on Roundshaw Downs, by the Plough Lane notice boardbetween 11:00 and 12:30 or drop the Biodiversity Team an email at biodiversity@sutton.gov.uk.
What a lovely good ‘moos’ story!
[Sorry! I did manage to get through all that without a rubbish cow based pun though, forgive me that last indiscretion!]

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