Rare breed lambs at Coombe Bissett Down nature reserve in Wiltshire

PUBLISHED: 17:09 20 May 2010 | UPDATED: 17:13 20 February 2013

Rare breed lambs at Coombe Bissett Down nature reserve in Wiltshire

Rare breed lambs at Coombe Bissett Down nature reserve in Wiltshire

Bumper year for lambs helps restore chalk grasslands<br/><br/><br/><br/>A walk among the wild flowers at Coombe Bissett Down nature reserve, near Salisbury, will be rewarded with the added interest of seeing rare breed lambs gambolling on the slopes

Bumper year for lambs helps Trust in quest to restore chalk grasslands


A walk among the wild flowers at Coombe Bissett Down nature reserve, near Salisbury, will be rewarded with the added interest of seeing rare breed lambs gambolling on the slopes, for the Wiltshire Wildlife Trust has had a bumper lambing season.


We have just finished lambing at the reserve and our 82 hardy Herdwick ewes have produced 114 lambs, says Jim Webb, the Trusts Livestock Manager.


Herdwicks originate from the central and western Lake District and the breed is often said to be the hardiest of Britains hill sheep. Due to the difficult conditions in the hills they generally produce only lamb each.


Unusually for this breed, 33 of our ewes at Coombe Bissett produced twins, so we must be doing something right, Jim adds.


The lambs are destined to play a vital part in the Trusts drive to restore wild flowers to chalk grassland across the county under the project New Life for Chalk Grasslands. This special habitat has suffered dramatic declines since the Second World War, becoming increasingly fragmented into small isolated stretches that make it difficult for species of wildlife to sustain successful populations.


Grazing animals are vital to the well being of chalk grassland as they eat down the competitive grasses and coarse vegetation which would otherwise shade out the delicate wildflowers.


The lambs at Coombe Bissett are an attractive breed, being born black but lightening to a dark brown colour after a year, which later lightens to grey after their first shearing.


Our Herdwick ewes are good Mums and have readily taken to their new offspring so we havent had to do much bottle feeding which is good because it saves us so much time, says Jim. His team is aided by volunteer lookers who act as the Trusts eyes and ears on the ground to help keep track of animals health and well being.


The Trust has selected native, hardy breeds of livestock for its grassland restoration because they can cope with difficult terrain, poor quality grazing and harsh weather conditions.


Later in the year the Herdwicks will be moved to Morgans Hill nature reserve near Devizes, and Markham Banks nature reserve, near Wroughton. According to Jim, the sheep and ponies grazing Markham Banks are already making a difference by eating down the tor grass.


Tor grass is a vigorous competitor which can quickly swamp out other species, and is very difficult to control because most breeds of livestock wont eat it. However, our tough animals will eat almost anything and are doing a fantastic job with it, says Jim.


By owning livestock the Trust can make sure that suitable animals are available to provide grazing for its own land and to offer assistance with grazing to other landowners.


By working with landowners it can start patching together all the fragments of chalk grassland found in downlands, coombes and valleys across Wiltshire - giving wildlife new joined up areas to move into as climate change takes hold.


Its been a fantastic year for cowslips on our reserves, which have had a good hard grazing during the long winter. It will be interesting to see what flowers we get now that summer is nearly here, says Jim.


Waste management company Cleansing Service Group has given a 30,000 grant towards the New Life for Chalk Grasslands Project, part of which is being used to supply electricity to the livestock barns at Coombe Bissett. This makes life a whole lot easier us now that we have started shearing our sheep there, says Jim.


The Herdwicks are joined on Trust reserves by three breeds of cattle Dexters, Belted Galloways and Aberdeen Angus - as well as Exmoor Ponies. The Trust is encouraging the public to sponsor these animals to help with the costs of their upkeep.


You can sponsor an animal online at www.wiltshirewildlife.org/joindonate/sponsorananimal/PageTemplate.aspx, or contact the Trust on (01380) 725670.


PHOTOS BARRY CRASKE WWT

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