We have an exciting new permanent addition to the Wild Ken Hill ‘team’: a Red Poll bull, who (rather aptly) goes by the name of Camelot – welcome to Camelot!
Camelot has already been warmly welcomed by the Red Poll herd. We hope he will cover the majority of cows within the 44-strong herd.
Of course, like the existing herd, Camelot is a Red Poll, a native breed, and one descended from Old Norfolk and Suffolk cattle – originally known as ‘East Anglian Polls’. We picked Red Poll cattle not only because they are a rare breed, (and contributing to the survival of rare breeds is important to us), but also because they are a hardy, native breed who do well on poor sandy soils, which we have here at Wild Ken Hill.
Red Poll also produce exceptionally good beef. They have a well-developed rumen, which means that they can convert poor forage into high quality milk and beef. We hope to be able to one day offer organic, pasture-fed meat.
Camelot has shown himself to be particularly docile and calm. This is important to us for handling and wider safety – more on this below. For now, it’s a warm welcome to Camelot!
Camelot’s arrival is the first major change to the grazing system in our rewilding area since the livestock first arrived here in October 2020. It’s part of a wider plan to evolve the grazing system in the rewilding area.
When we brought in grazing animals three years ago, it was difficult to predict how they would interact with the landscape. A key part of our job since then has been monitoring the livestock and the regeneration of vegetation around the site.
We’ve been extremely happy with how the livestock – the “site managers”, as we call them – have benefited the landscape. In particular, the parts of the rewilding area that were formerly marginal arable land have transitioned quickly towards a rich grassland. This was measured in a survey by our great friend Graeme Lyons last year. Graeme’s report suggested that the average number of different plants had almost doubled in just three years. The grazing animals have played a key role in this boost for nature by grazing off the volunteer crops and moving seeds around the site in their fur and dung.
One area which the report identified could be improved upon was the approach to natural grazing. By doing the same thing, everywhere, all of the time, livestock can start to act as a homogenising force. Graeme’s report suggested we should give parts of the site periods of extended rest from grazing (otherwise known as ‘pulsed grazing’). Rather than year-round, steady-state grazing, we expect pulsed grazing would futher benefit plants and invertebrates.
Arguably, this pulsed grazing is more akin to how wild herbivores would have moved through the landscape thousands of years ago: in tight herds, being moved around by predators, intensely grazing patches before moving on.
Generally, we buy into the rewilding approach of reducing human interventions and letting natural processes run the show. In this particular instance, however, it is important that we do intervene, and move the livestock around as if they were on the move from predators.
Camelot’s arrival will also allow us to grow the size of the Red Poll herd. There is the new 50-acre meadow near Heacham South Beach that will require grazing. We are also hoping to fine tune the grazing on the freshwater marshes to be better for breeding waders.
Both of these areas are contiguous with the rewilding area, meaning further biodiversity benefits and, we hope, a great experience for our visitors.
To enable all of this, we’ve invested in our infrastructure, buying in a new coral and cattle crush. This will allow us to bring in the Red Poll cattle much more easily and safely, and move them between different parts of Wild Ken Hill as required.
This is exciting – the evolution of the grazing system should benefit biodiversity across many different parts of Wild Ken Hill.
One of the exciting things about Camelot’s arrival is the potential for organic, pasture-fed beef to be produced at Wild Ken Hill.
Being a permanent addition, Camelot is likely to breed with individual cows more than once. While we are keen to grow the herd, there will come a point when we might have too many Red Poll for the available area of grazing.
This gives us the opportunity to produce a highly sustainable source of meat. The Red Poll at Wild Ken Hill make a great contribution to the reversal of biodiversity loss, and only when the herd grows too large would “surplus” animals enter the supply chain.
And we’d like to think that livestock here have a pretty great life, with access to large areas of forage, never spending time indoors, and of course getting the right veterinary care if they need it.
We’re therefore excited about the possibility of working with our local supply chain, butchers, and restaurants about bringing this high quality produce to market.
For his first two weeks with us, Camelot was only located in areas with no public rights of way.
But as of last week, Camelot has been moved to a part of the freshwater marsh that contains a public footpath. In time Camelot, may also spend time in the rewilding area, where there are further public footpaths. We’ve placed signage on entries into the area, and we’ll of course be following all relevant procedures and guidance. It’s worth saying that we have a livestock and public access policy in place, which includes that we assess temperament and behaviour of livestock prior to purchase, and regularly while they are here with us at Wild Ken Hill.
Whilst Red Poll cattle are often selected for public grazing sites due to their docile nature, small size, and lack of horns – and Camelot seems to be an exceptionally calm bull, and has shown no signs of aggression – we would always encourage visitors to be considerate around grazing animals and wildlife, and keep dogs on a lead.
We hope that Camelot will help us to achieve our nature goals by producing plenty of offspring, enabling the “site managers” to commence pulsed grazing in earnest. We believe that a larger herd of Red Poll cattle will make an even bigger impact on biodiversity, and we look forward to celebrating the arrival of the first of Camelot’s calves next spring!