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23rd January, 2008

Buffalo improve wildlife habitat in Cambridgeshire

Wednesday 00:02

Three new additions to a herd of water buffalo are keeping nature reserve staff busy on a Cambridgeshire fen.

Chippenham Fen National Nature Reserve, managed by Natural England, is welcoming the Asian Water Buffalo as their newest recruits and brings the total on the site to nine.

The hefty beasts graze the toughest of vegetation, break up scrub with their powerful horns and are a great example of how land can be managed using unconventional animals.

Reserve Manager Kevin Warrington said: "We are really pleased with the buffalo and the effect they are having on the various habitats in the reserve. They are managing an area of about 100 acres and reducing scrub, enabling rarer and less competitive plant species to thrive".

Extremely wet conditions and poor quality vegetation mean ordinary cattle would have a tough time grazing in the fen.

"Because they are so adaptable, we hope to be able to promote their use on other sites" added Kevin.

"We check them on average once a day. Each of the buffalo has its own personality although they all enjoy the peace and quiet of the reserve!"

Notes for editors: 1. Natural England works for people, places and nature to conserve and enhance biodiversity, landscapes and wildlife in rural, urban, coastal and marine areas. We conserve and enhance the natural environment for its intrinsic value, the wellbeing and enjoyment of people, and the economic prosperity it brings.

2. Photographs of the buffalo are available.

3. The reserve: Chippenham Fen is a 105 hectare National Nature Reserve. National Nature Reserves were established to protect the most important areas of wildlife habitat and geological formations. There are over 200 in England. Chippenham Fen is one of the best remaining areas of undrained, semi-natural fen in Europe. Over the past three decades, the fen meadows in the centre of the reserve had been mown. Due to an increasing area of fen, as invading woodland was pushed back; it was becoming ever more difficult to maintain these areas.

4. The buffalo: The buffalo are creating a variation in vegetation structure, which in turn provides a series of microhabitats for the many rare plants and invertebrates, better than we could achieve using machinery. They thrive upon the poor quality grazing and site conditions are no hindrance to them; though biting flies and ticks result in them spending long periods wallowing in ponds and ditches. In July 2001, English Nature (now a part of Natural England) began a grazing trial using Asian Water Buffalo (Bubalus bubalus) in Chippenham Fen National Nature Reserve, Cambridgeshire. Currently there are six buffalo steers but due to an ever increasing area being managed by the buffalo three more steers have now been purchased.

5. Please note: Unfortunately there are no parking facilities at the reserve and access to the reserve is on foot from Chippenham village. The buffalo roam a wide area and may not always be seen from the public footpath.

Issued on behalf of Natural England by GNN East.

Client ref NE-03

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