New technology is helping farmers to conserve and enhance grasslands on their farms
through fenceless grazing.

Cows grazing in a green field in the evening sunshine

A fence is the usual – and traditional – solution employed by a farmer to keep a herd of cattle in one place. This can include permanent structures, such as posts and barbed wire, or moveable electric fencing connected to portable batteries. These solutions either offer no flexibility or require consistent physical input from the farmer and it is difficult to undertake conservation grazing, and sustain valuable wildlife-rich grasslands, in areas which have valuable archaeological features.

But recent technological advances in satellite GPS, mobile phones and lightweight collar units have led to the development of a “fenceless grazing” solution.

Using this ‘fenceless grazing’ system, a small electronic collar is fitted to each cow. The farmer, using GPS technology on their phone, defines the grazing boundary and can easily change where the boundary lies through a simple app. The cows are trained to respond to sound signals from the collar which tell the animal when it is approaching a boundary. If the animal goes further, the collar delivers a small electric shock similar to that that from a more traditional electric fence. The system works particularly well over a large expanse where the farmer only wants small areas grazed at a time. Grazing can be used as a tool to manage the land – preventing scrub encroachment, controlling grass density and encouraging particular wildflower species. Well-managed grassland also offers valuable carbon storage capacity through increased root and plant mass.
Funding for the collars is available through the Farming in Protected Landscapes (FiPL) programme but only in Protected Landscapes where they will allow for grazing around important heritage features and only when the cattle are native, pedigree rare-breeds.

A cow wearing one of the lightweight collars

A Belted Galloway cow wearing one of the lightweight collars. Top image: Belted Galloways grazing in north Hampshire. Credit: Charles Sainsbury-Plaice

Through the FiPL funding programme, the team at the North Wessex Downs NL have recently funded two farmers to fit their cattle with NoFence collars. Both farms have valuable, wildlife-rich chalk grassland habitat which is ecologically important and hard to fence due to significant archaeology. By carefully controlling the grazing on the land, the grassland species can be enhanced, the land is naturally fertilized and the cattle feed on nutritious mixed grassland.

Fiona Nourse, who farms at Temple Farm, west of Marlborough, received a FiPL grant for NoFence collars to allow her to selectively graze the nationally-important Fyfield Down – a Site of Special Scientific Interest and Scheduled Monument. Along with funding for initial scrub clearance, the collars will help her use native breed White Park cattle to precisely control which areas are grazed and for how long, thus preventing further scrub encroaching on the iconic sarsen stones as well as keeping this open, well-loved landscape free from ugly fencing systems.

Raleigh Place, a farmer in North Hampshire, is also using NoFence collars to undertake selective conservation grazing on his land using Belted Galloway cattle (see photo). This system will enable wood pasture to be grazed, historic parkland to be restored and will allow flexible grazing to control where scrub can develop and where species-rich grassland can be encouraged. Raleigh’s farm also holds significant archaeological sites, where traditional, fixed fencing could potentially damage remains below ground. This approach will greatly enhance the environmental improvements that are possible on the farm, creating, connecting and improving habitats.

More information about the FIPL programme in the North Wessex Downs is available here.