Mount Brandon Nature Reserve (Dexter Cattle Research Project)


Mount Brandon Nature Reserve (Dexter Cattle Research Project)

1 Contact: Therese Higgins, Project Leader, Institute of Technology, Clash, Tralee, Co. Kerry, Ireland. Tel: +353 (0)66 71456000 / Email:


2 Territory: Mountain Brandon (951.7m). The Mountain Brandon Nature Reserve is a 462 hectare statutory nature reserve located 35km west of Tralee, Co Kerry. The fenced reserve was established in 1986.


3 Founded: The five year Dexter Cattle Research Project was established in 2011.


4 Genesis: The project is a collaboration between the Institute of Technology, Tralee, the National Parks and Wildlife Service (NPWS), and a local Dexter beef cattle farmer.


5 Vision:

  1. To understand how ‘conservation grazing’ (i.e. grazing with traditional breeds of domestic animals for the benefit of biodiversity in semi-natural habitats) impacts on protected upland habitats and;
  2. To compare parasite burdens and dung beetles between upland and lowland grazing regimes.

6 Key Objectives:

  • A collaborative research project between a local organic beef farmer, a third level academic institution and the state agency responsible for nature conservation.
  • Studying the behaviour of free ranging Dexter cattle in a 462 hectare statutory nature reserve and assessing their impact on upland habitat
  • Developing specific, evidence-based management recommendations for land owners and managers of upland syst
  • Studying parasite-cattle interactions in upland and lowland settin


7 Structure & Staff:  A Project team lead by Dr Therese Higgins and Dr Geraldine Twamley-Stein, with a PhD student (Kilian Kelly) and a masters by research student (Noel Dineen). An overall Project Team comprised the three representatives of ITT, two farmers and the NPWS. Seven undergraduate research projects were completed during the lifetime of the project. A total of seventeen volunteers also supported the project.


8 Operational Management: All administration for the project was delivered through ITT.


9 Annual Core Budget: 100k pa for five years [Funded through: ITT, Institutes of Technology Ireland, NPWS and Shannon ABC Technology Gateway]


10 Sample Programming: The introduction of a herd of 30 Dexter cattle in 2011 into Mt Brandon Nature Reserve. The herd was grazed between July and October of each subsequent year to 2015; The creation of four 50 x 50 m animal exclosures in the primary habitats of the reserve (wet and dry heath, blanket bog and wet grassland)  which serve as ungrazed control plots; The completion of comprehensive vegetation and invertebrate sampling over 4 seasons in order to assess the response of various elements of biodiversity to the grazing treatment. and; Supporting research on parasite-cattle interaction. [Note: Ireland / UK have 85% of the ‘wet heath’ in Europe.]


11 Some Practical Problems Encountered: The lack of primary data and related research models to begin with; The coexistence of a ‘research area’ with recreational walkers as Mount Brandon is on the Dingle Way; Perhaps a five year time frame for the project is just too short. [Note: significantly more research work being conducted on upland cattle grazing in Scotland / England, there is a ‘funding deficit’ in Ireland.]


12 Some Unresolved Issues: Is there a longer term impact on the uplands of the reintroduction of the cattle? Although baseline data now exists on the grazing pattern / impact of the Dexter’s over a five year period on Mount Brandon opportunities exist to broaden the scope of the research possibly examining also other native breeds such as the Kerry’s. [Note: Coastal and upland areas remain the most sensitive to climate change.]


13 Lessons Learned: All partners brought not just skills and experience but also financial support (in cash and in-kind) that enabled the research project to happen; the potential for greater linkage between a regional food ‘product’ such as the Dexter’s with the landscape; the physical hardship / difficulties of uplands farming coupled with health and safety risks; the challenges, practicalities and economies of farming using traditional practices and; local government supported employment schemes, although very welcome, could be more effective in addressing the very real needs of the uplands.


14 Work Profile: Dedicated research 60%; partner engagement 15%; administration / fund raising 15%; communications 10%.


Dingle Peninsula

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