HIGH-TECH satellite tracking technology is being used to follow cattle and sheep at one of Wales’ most important wildlife habitats.
Natural Resources Wales (NRW) hopes the technology can help it manage the National Nature Reserve (NNR) and Site of Special Scientific Interest (SSSI) at Merthyr Mawr dunes, near Bridgend.
The cattle grazing the grass behind the dunes will be fitted with trackers that monitor their location, movements and grazing areas. This will be the first time GPS technology is used this way in Wales.
The information can help highlight the cattle’s preferred grazing sites. Conservationists at NRW can then move the cattle away from areas that need to grow to sections that need to be cut back.
This data is also fed back to the farmers’ smart phones which gives them a live location of where their livestock are at any one time, reducing the time and resource cost in collecting them.
The project is managed by the European Innovation Partnership (EIP Wales) which is led by Menter a Busnes. The site at Merthyr Mawr is one of three across Wales where the technology is being tested.
Rob Williams, the cattle owner at Merthyr Mawr, said: “Trialling this type of technology with my cattle is an excellent opportunity to test whether it can help with managing livestock in these multi-use areas where food production, conservation grazing and visitors enjoying the outdoors are all important outputs.
“The other participants are testing these trackers on both cattle and sheep across a range of sites with similar characteristics in Wales.
“The project is testing how useful this technology is from a farmer’s perspective in helping keep livestock on sites where grazing is a key part of landscape management.”
Lynfa Davies, Manager for the EIP Wales programme at Menter a Busnes, added: “The farmers in the project were keen to investigate whether GPS tracking could help them manage their stock in areas of challenging terrain and they each have different motivations for taking part, including knowing where their stock are and alerting them to unusual behaviour that could be linked to theft.”
Over a longer timeframe, the collected data can be used to study the social interactions of the herd, especially parent to off-spring relationships and contact with other animals.
Duncan Ludlow, senior land management officer for NRW, said: “Maintaining our rarest habitats make up a huge part of the work we do, and this project will help us do it more efficiently than ever.
“Not only will this bring benefits to the farmers involved, it will give us more control over how Merthyr Mawr is managed as well providing us with data that can be used to improve the way we manage grazing on all of our sites.”