In the late 80's, the Bollin Valley Project (now Partnership), faced with managing 100 acres of wild flower-rich grassland at Macclesfield Riverside Park, was looking for a method which was more interesting and ecologically sound than mowing. Grazing was deemed to be the most sustainable method to manage the land as it would both encourage wildflowers though removal of coarse grasses that compete with wildflowers, and also mean that large areas of pasture land didn't have to be mechanically mown. The country park was already being heavily used by the public for recreation, mainly walking, dog walking and running so if the area was to be grazed then the animals had to be hardy, tolerant of people and unworried by dogs.
In 1988, after investigating various alternatives, the Project bought 11 Longhorn cows and 2 calves from various quality herds in the country. Longhorns are attractive to look at, with their striking downturned horns and distinctive 'finch-back' stripe; they calve easily and are very docile, ideally suited to a country park accessed by the public. Since the 1980's, the herd has been building up in numbers as and when further grassland management has been required. One of the added bonuses of Longhorns was that they were a rare breed, which created both a further conservation aspect and an educational opportunity. We have made the most of this by hosting farm visits and 'Meet the Longhorn' events for people to find out more about why we keep the cattle and to learn more about them, whilst seeing them at close quarters.
In the mid 90's, when our herd was at its highest number, we even trialled a pair of working oxen to manage some of the grassland work in the valley. Bollin Mars and Bollin Major, bred within the herd, were trained up and used for pulling a restored ox-cart and ploughing the wild flower meadow at Riverside Park.
In addition to their other regular duties, the Bollin Valley rangers currently manage a herd of around 80 animals including three bulls, Bollin Reginald, Fishwick Poseidon and Blackbrook Warrior. These animals graze not only Riverside Park but also various other parts of the valley from Tegg's Nose, in the hills above Macclesfield to the plains of Wilmslow and the riverlands of the National Trust's Styal estate. The Bollin cattle can be seen out in the pastures from spring to autumn, but are overwintered at Oakwood Farm in Styal, to avoid churning the ground in wetter months.
The Bollin cattle are run as a 'closed herd', breeding all its own replacements, but good quality bulls are brought in to ensure genetic diversity. The Partnerships breeding policy aims to retain the best characteristics of the cattle - their docile nature and easy calving. The best heifers (females) are kept in the herd; the steers (males) are sold at 12 - 18 months. This produces an income for the Partnership which can be utilised in further conservation projects.
Thirty years of good breeding methods has resulted in some impressive Rare Breed show results over the years. A reduction in the number of staff has meant less scope to show the herd but they are highly thought of in Rare Breeds sales – in 2018 one of the longhorns won the prestigious title of Champion Longhorn in the Longhorn Cattle society Northern show and sale.
The cattle continue to play an important role in conservation grazing and landscape management of the Bollin Valley for future generations. The Longhorns have made a huge positive impact on the Bollin Valley and are a much loved and valued feature of our countryside.
Bollin Valley Partnership - Longhorn Cattle