25 October 2011

Ham Amenities Group and Cows

October brings the Ham Amenities Group (HAG) AGM and once again I went to hear the local talk given after the usual business matters, like the reports from the committee, were all put safely to bed.

This year was a real treat. We were given a first-hand account of the cows on Petersham Meadow from a volunteer cow warden.

But let's begin somewhere near the beginning.

The view from Richmond Hill south across the river has been revered, painted and photographed over the centuries and is now protected by law. For most of this time the water meadows at the bottom of the hill have been home to cows.

A few years ago it all fell to pieces until a local campaign, headed by Chris Brasher, successfully established a charitable trust to take control of the meadows. Then, a year ago, management of the site was handed to the National Trust.

The National Trust recruited several volunteers to work with them as wardens and one of them (I must find out her name) gave us a very informative and entertaining talk that far outshone most talks I've seen from people who talk for a living.

Her first lesson was, Never go in to a field of cows without a stick. She had brought hers with her and showed us how to wield it to make the cows move around you.

When the cows arrive in the meadow in spring this is their first experience of outdoors for the calves and they frolic around for a couple of hours exploring every corner of the field. They are always testing the (physical) boundaries and sometimes have to be prised out of hedges.

The north-west corner is there favourite spot, but you'll have to ask them why that is.

The cows act as a group, moving across the field, coming if for the evening and choosing a corner of the barn to settle in. They obviously communicate but it is not clear how.

They learn about the routine of the helpers and anticipate the arrival of apples and the opening up of parts of the field.

People also use the field and they are a bigger problem. They bring litter, noise, children, dogs and food, none of which are appropriate in a field of cows. People have no understanding of how cows behave or of the damage they can do.

There is a battle going on in Petersham Meadows between people and cows. I'm cheering for the cows.

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