Eking Out A Meagre Winter Living On Wilden Marsh

In past years it’s been difficult stretching the winter grazing on Wilden Marsh through to the lush new grasses of spring with nine cattle, without incurring additional costs of bringing in forage from outside. A herd of fourteen beasts now compete to devour the best of the 100 acre marsh grazing.

The cattle are on the marsh to help improve its health, vitality and to control invasive weeds, so they are a very important management tool. I wanted the herd increased to make a greater impact on invasive weeds during future growing seasons. Wilden Marsh has existed since the retreat of the ice age and grazing has shaped it, probably since prehistoric times. Without grazing and other methods of dealing with fast growing alder, willow and birch, the marsh will quickly revert to thick impenetrable forest within ten years. Not too long ago, willow withies, reeds and other fast growing marsh plants and trees were used locally for firewood and forage, and cottage industries produced baskets, hats, mats, broom handles, hurdles, fencing, and many other everyday item needed to sustain village and town life. 

These days, the resources of Wilden Marsh are used for grazing, left to rot, and to provide protected habitats for a wide variety of fauna and flora. I suppose there will always be those that strive to turn Wilden Marsh over to residential, industrial or leisure development. At a time when we are losing so many species, locally and worldwide, I’m glad there are people and organisations prepared to fight to keep and develop nature reserves for posterity.  

To help with land management the north marsh is now fully stock fenced, with gated corridors to ease cattle movement between the various pastures.

For the next three months, the cattle will spend their time grazing Hoo Brook and Riverside Pastures, the Swamp, the North Pasture and the Northern and Tenant Farmer’s Corridors. On Monday I moved the herd from the far south end and put them in Hoo Brook Pasture at the far northern end of the marsh. Yesterday (Friday) I opened the gates allowing the cattle to roam freely between Hoo Brook and the Riverside Pastures and the new corridor joining them. They will start grazing the swamp sometime in January.

Being browsers, the cattle naturally eat the tastiest vegetation first, before progressively moving on to the less palatable plants such as rushes and reeds. 

I’m keeping my fingers crossed that the grazing will last the distance.



The cattle using their waterhole in Hoo Brook Pasture.

14 Comments on “Eking Out A Meagre Winter Living On Wilden Marsh

  1. Good luck. When we had cows, we soon realized we had to many for the limited pastures we had at the time and ended up having to buy hay. Now we have our own Homestead, and more room for them to roam. Hopefully this spring we will again have some bovine.

    • I try not to over think things, Tom. The cattle are Scottish and well used to hardship, and they don’t moan or try to make things difficult for me.

      • I know the marsh herd is Scottish because they hurl abuse and wiggle their rear ends, tail raised like flagpoles, at the English cattle over the river.

  2. This gives us some insight into how difficult it must have been to eke out a living off the land at the mercy of the elements. I think this was how the turnip was invented 😉 I hope they find enough grazing through the winter.

      • We do take a lot for granted, no matter how much we hate shopping. I believe they have now decided that the egg came first, laid by a chicken-like bird, that then hatched into a proper chicken 😉

      • It all a matter of what you are used to. There is a lot in the saying: “You can’t miss what you haven’t had.” I don’t have a million pounds to hand, so I don’t miss it. I miss the glove I lost on the marsh, though – having just the one glove doesn’t do it for me.

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