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West Norfolk rewilding site introduces grazing animals

Wild Ken Hill, on the West Norfolk coast in Snettisham have added a herd of Red Poll Cattle and Exmoor ponies to boost biodiversity on its site, joining the Tamworth Pigs who were released last month. These will bring a fantastic mix of grazing, browsing, soil disturbance and other benefits – all aiming to replicate the behaviours of the wild herbivores that wandered through this landscape many thousands of years ago.

The Red Poll selected by Wild Ken Hill is a hardy rare breed, derived from the original cattle of Norfolk and Suffolk, with a beautiful dark red body. It is extremely thrifty and suited to doing well on coarse vegetation. It is small in size and has a calm nature, so should pose no problems to walkers using local footpaths. We’re introducing around 30 head of Red Poll, made up mostly of in-calf cows with last year’s calf still at foot, as well as a few heifers. There are currently no bulls.

Complementing the Red Poll, Wild Ken Hill have introduced Exmoor ponies. Exmoors are sometimes considered the hardiest of rare breeds, and will be very-well suited to spending all year roaming Wild Ken Hill’s rewilding area. Exmoor ponies that have not been handled are usually difficult to get close to, and will typically run off when walkers or dogs get close, rather than confront them.

In addition to the wild deer population at Wild Ken Hill, the Red Poll and Exmoors will graze and browse off vegetation. We hope this helps to create the healthy woodland pasture environment that is associated with very high biodiversity.

Their dung also helps to cycle nutrients, they carry seeds around in their fur which helps vegetation to spread, and the Exmoors will even create bare ground that supports early successional species by taking dust baths.

In October Wild Ken Hill also released two Tamworth pigs into the rewilding area, aiming to replicate the behaviour of wild boar that lived here centuries ago. The Tamworths have quite a different effect to the Red Poll and Exmoors – they disturb the soil, almost ploughing the top layer as they rootle in search of food. This behaviour helps vegetation to regenerate, and we’re particularly hoping will help to restore our acid heathland, which is rank and overgrown. A mature Tamworth sow can disturb around 50 acres of top soil in a year!

Project Manager Dominic Buscall says: “We are delighted to now have Red Poll cattle, Exmoor ponies, and Tamworth pigs all on site at Wild Ken Hill. Each of these species will enhance the variety of habitats here as part of our conservation, rewilding and sustainable farming work where we seek to be national leader.”

“The herds will not only help graze down vegetation, but also assist with seed dispersal, nutrient cycling, soil disturbance, and a variety of important natural processes.”

Project Manager Nick Padwick commented: “These are all native, rare breeds so we’re hoping to be good stewards for these herds, allowing them to flourish over time. The ponies are from the Tippbarlake herd on Brendon, Exmoor, the Red Poll have come from Essex and out Tamworth pigs have come to us from Wiltshire. Together they will help to boost our biodiversity here at Wild Ken Hill.”

About Wild Ken Hill

Wild Ken Hill is a unique project that combines rewilding, regenerative farming, and traditional conservation methods over a coastal Norfolk farm. In doing so, Wild Ken Hill hopes to deliver great environmental good whilst continuing to produce healthy food in a sustainable manner, and showcase responsible land use that could be scaled up across the UK.

Wild Ken Hill have also recently reintroduced two pairs of beavers onto the site. These creatures which were hunted to extinction in England over 400 years ago play a vital role in maintaining ecosystems and encouraging biodiversity, whilst helping to minimise flood risk (something which is becoming more prevalent on this stretch of coast with rising sea levels associated with climate change). The beavers at Wild Ken Hill all come from Tayside in Scotland, where around 20% of the wild population was killed in around 7 months of 2019, under controversial licenses provided by the Scottish government. So these releases are also about securing the long-term future of this native and extremely beneficial animal in the UK.

We encourage people wishing to follow the journey to visit the Wild Ken Hill Social Media Pages as well as the blog at www.wildkenhill.co.uk

Header image: Les Bunyan.