Plans to bring back ancient tradition of grazing cattle on Siston Common

Plans to reintroduce the centuries-old tradition of grazing cattle on Siston Common have been announced.

About one third of the sprawling common is affected by the proposal which would see up to 20 cows grazing on the part that runs from the underpass nearest The Horseshoe pub and the one that goes under the A4174 Ring Road that leads towards Stanley Road.

South Gloucestershire Council, which has launched a consultation into the plans, says the return of grazing to the common will help to recreate conditions that will enable important and increasingly rare wildflowers and meadow grasses to re-establish.

It also says that grazing is a more cost-effective, natural, and lower carbon approach than using machinery.

This old photo shows a herdsman driving cattle on Siston Common

“From initial conversations with local people, we believe there is support for grazing animals here. However, we want to capture a wider range of views and understand what concerns people may have. With a greater understanding of the views of local people, we can better plan whether and how we take these proposals forward.”

Some concerns that have already been flagged up locally include that common land should not be fenced; that when cattle were last on the common, they were supervised by a herdsman and taken in at night; and that there is an ongoing problem with motorbikes being ridden over this part of the common.

The council stresses that the cattle will be selected for their docile temperaments and hardiness and will be happy living outside during warmer months and sharing the space with the public. There will not be any bulls or cows nursing calves, and there are no plans to restrict dog walking.

With the planned installation of new fencing and replacement of some old fence lines, plus additional cattle grids, the cattle will be kept away from the surrounding roads.

The common land in front of The Horseshoe pub would be fenced

The council adds that the presence of grazing animals is part of the rich cultural heritage of the area and their return will help to reconnect the community with its historic and cultural past. It is also likely to attract new visitors and the council says that well-used and well-loved local spaces tend to attract far less vandalism and misuse.

The council hopes to establish a volunteer ‘stockwatcher’ group, who together with the existing Friends of Siston Commons, can keep an eye on the animals and quickly report any concerns.

Any plans will ultimately need permission from the Planning Inspectorate on behalf of the Environment Secretary as new fencing will affect access to common land.

The consultation is on the council’s website and runs until 5th June. The council says it is interested in hearing from everyone with an interest in Siston Common, “whether you live locally and walk on the common every day, or just drive past it once in a while”.

The plans have been warmly welcomed by the Friends of Siston Commons, saying it will be great in the future if commoners who have a legal right to graze animals will be able to do so.

Cattle have grrazed on the common for centuries