The behaviour of free-roaming herds of Highland cattle and Konik polski at Wicken Fen nature reserve

Laidlaw, Carol (2018) The behaviour of free-roaming herds of Highland cattle and Konik polski at Wicken Fen nature reserve. Masters thesis, Anglia Ruskin University.

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Semi-feral or domestic livestock are often utilised by nature reserve managers in order to maintain or increase the biodiversity of a particular habitat; a technique known as conservation grazing management. This study investigated the maintenance behaviour, space use and social organisation of free-roaming Highland cattle and Konik polski (horses) introduced to Wicken Fen Nature Reserve in 2003 as part of the ‘Wicken Fen Vision’: a landscape scale habitat creation project in the East Anglian Fens. It provides the first description of the behaviour of large herbivores at this important site and was conducted to improve understanding of grazing animals in conservation management. Data were collected by scan sampling at 15 minute intervals over a total period of 162 non-consecutive hours in 2011. Scan sampling of individuals was used to record activity, nearest neighbour and sub-area location of three study groups (mixed sex cattle, female cattle and horses). Null hypothesis significance tests (NHSTs) and the generalized linear model were used on activity and location data to assess variation across individuals, time and space. Social network analysis and NHSTs were used on the nearest neighbour data to assess social structure and relationships. Variation in the proportion of scans spent in different activities was evident between sexes for cattle but not horses and between age categories for horses but not cattle, although data constraints may explain the latter. Variation in the proportion of scans spent in different activities varied within day and between seasons for all groups. The relative use of sub-areas also differed by season for all groups but there was only an association between sub-area and activity for the mixed cattle group. The variation in activity and space use between individuals and across seasons indicates that the outcome of conservation grazing is likely to be dependent on herd composition and timing. The cattle had a uniform, stable social network with strong ties between kin. The horse herds contained sub-groups centred on adult individuals with long term stable associations, with strong ties between mother and recent offspring and unrelated adults. This study demonstrates that behavioural data on free-roaming grazers can be effectively collected and analysed, using traditional and emerging statistical techniques, to describe patterns of variation relevant to the ethical use of large herbivores in conservation management. It has also generated questions, and provided insights for protocols, for future research exploring causal factors in variation and linking behaviour to specific ecological outcomes.

Item Type: Thesis (Masters)
Keywords: landscape scale, free-roaming, Highland cattle, Konik polski, social network analysis
Faculty: Theses from Anglia Ruskin University
Depositing User: Lisa Blanshard
Date Deposited: 09 Jul 2019 15:48
Last Modified: 09 Sep 2021 18:56

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