We are far from our normal native breeds with this weeks #grazeroftheweek! Our very exotic Grazer of the Week this week is Willow the Water Buffalo (Bubalus bubalis), who grazes at Teifi Marshes in North Pembrokeshire
Where possible, nature reserve managers in Wales will try to use our native breeds for conservation grazing. However, in some situations, something a bit different can be the best option!
Teifi Marshes is a beautiful nature reserve which is owned and managed by the Wildlife Trust of South and West Wales. The site is composed of wildlife-rich wetlands, such as otters, reptiles, dragonflies and 11 species of bat.
At Teifi Marshes, the marsh makes for a habitat management challenge. Grazing was required on site, but when ponies were introduced, they were only interested in the lush grass rather than the unwanted scrub. Cattle fared a little better but still avoided the watery areas of the marsh. The Wildlife Trust also struggled to find farmers to put cattle on the wetter parts of the reserve because the site has been associated with Red Water fever.
Why Water Buffalo?
This is where the water buffalo come in! Buffalo are immune to Red Water Fever and relish wallowing and grazing in marshes. Local water buffalo owners, Andrew, Tom and Colette Lucas, were happy to begin grazing at Teifi Marshes. A grazing agreement between them and the Wildlife Trust allows the animals to be on the reserve from April to October. The number of water buffalo on the reserve can vary year by year although there are generally between 3 and 5 on site during the grazing season. They do a great job keeping areas clear of invasive plants such as willow scrub, gorse and reedmace, which in turn helps to maintain the habitats favoured by many native and migratory birds. The reserve had been fighting a losing battle against the spread of poor-quality land which the Wildlife Trust took on when it purchased the site, yet now, the benefits of using these animals can be clearly seen.
They like nothing better than wallowing, thus creating depressions and ponds which are a prefect habitat for invertebrates such as damselflies and dragonflies, amphibians such as toads and newts and also for bird life. These species in turn help feed the reserve’s population of otters, as well as the herons and egrets. Grazing of water buffalo can maintain the diverse and low height vegetation structure of wet meadows and on marshy areas, trampling of vegetation also creates channels which can be used for dispersal by fish into reedbeds (Gulickx et al. 2007). On reedbed areas they help achieve a variety of habitats, from dense common reed (Phragmites australis) to open channels. These open channels might also provide suitable bittern (Botaurus stellaris) foraging habitat. The buffalo prove adept at using their long, sweeping horns to tear out brambles to reach places where horses and other animals would not venture. Other worthy attributes of this animal are their rate of weight gain and their resistance to disease.
With regard to their general management, the water buffalo will fit into a site that has been set up for cattle and handling facilities suitable for cattle are usually sufficient for buffalo. I say usually, as there have been times when they are in a holding pen and the larger of them has managed to jump onto the metal agricultural gate, bending it enough for it then to escape back into the field. All holding pen gates on the reserve are now an extra foot higher to prevent these instances from happening again! On another occasion, a large bull used his horns to lift a field gate off its hinges, allowing the whole herd to get out and head down the lane to the nearby village of Cilgerran! These occurrences are extremely rare and often when they know they are being taken off the reserve.
On the reserve, the effect of their grazing and wallowing is carefully monitored and assessed in order to maintain and improve on the conservation conditions required. They can also be run with cattle together in the same paddock quite happily and tend to compliment each other in their grazing habits.
Thanks to Wildlife Trust Officer Nathan Walton for his insights on conservation grazing with Water Buffalo at Teifi Marshes.
Let us know your thoughts in the comments below.
Gulickx, M.M.C., Beecroft, R.C. & Green, A.C. 2007.Introduction of water buffalo Bubalus bubalis to recently created wetlands at Kingfishers Bridge, Cambridgeshire, England. Conservation Evidence Magazine 4, pg. 43 – 44.
Don’t forget you can share your Grazer of the Week with us by tagging @pontcymru with the #GrazeroftheWeek on Instagram and Facebook for the chance to have your animal and project shared!