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Council U-turn on plans that threatened future of Cambridge’s grazing cows



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A proposed budget cut that critics said risked ending Cambridge’s centuries-old tradition of grazing cows in the city was scrapped on Thursday (February 25).

Angelika von Heimendahl pictured with her Red Poll cattle that graze on Midsummer Common in Cambridge. .Picture - Richard Marsham. (44664164)
Angelika von Heimendahl pictured with her Red Poll cattle that graze on Midsummer Common in Cambridge. .Picture - Richard Marsham. (44664164)

Labour-led Cambridge City Council had proposed ending an out-of-hours pinder service which responds to emergencies and any problems related to the cows when the council is closed.

The move would have saved £8,000 a year, and, according to a council report, would have transferred out-of-hours responsibility for the welfare and safety of cattle grazing on its land to the licensed graziers.

Angelika von Heimendahl, who has been grazing her animals on Midsummer Common for 15 years, had criticised the proposal and expressed doubt over whether the practice of grazing cows in the centre of the city would continue if it went ahead. She said graziers were against the change and had not been consulted.

The council’s full-time support for grazing on the city’s commons will continue after the proposed saving was removed from the budget before it was agreed on Tuesday, following an amendment from the Liberal Democrat opposition group.

If the proposed saving had been implemented, the council maintained it would continue to provide support for graziers’ during its operational hours.

The leader of the Lib Dem group, councillor Tim Bick, welcomed the reversal, and noted it followed public pressure.

Cllr Bick had described the proposal as “a penny-pinch too far”.

The council's executive councillor for planning policy and open spaces, Katie Thornburrow, told the virtual meeting her party would support the amendment to retain the funding following a critical question on the subject from the chair of the Federation of Cambridge Residents’ Associations, Wendy Blythe.

Cllr Thornburrow said: “Having cows on the commons is a must and was always our intention. How we manage them is open to discussion, and the safety of cows and our residents has to be a priority consideration.

“A year ago in February 2020 we consulted with all the graziers about the service covered by the pinder in relation to the spaces used by the cows. We have got written responses from almost all of them.

“It was agreed that we would look at the out-of-hours service, and how to contact the right person or organisation if something arises.

“We want to review and make sure that all the right communications are put in place to deal with anything that might arise – the pinder will always attend if necessary, and there would be no additional cost to graziers.

“It was with that agreement of the graziers that we proceeded with this idea. Our team has been in contact with most graziers again recently, and learned more about their thoughts, and we have also talked to some of the residents.

“Over the last year, during the pandemic, there has been an increase in the number of people using the park and a large increase in the number of dogs too. Dogs that are not controlled can cause stress to cows, and dog poo can carry diseases that harm cattle too.

“Going forward, we will be trialling different ways to communicate, start a dog control campaign, adapt and work with graziers so that we know that any changes work well for all concerned.”

The council’s budget also includes funding for a ramp to help rescue cows if they fall into the river.

Lib Dem councillor Katie Porrer told the meeting said she was concerned for the future of grazing in the city if the cut went ahead.

She said cows grazing in the city is “such an amazing thing,” and added “we need to have a safety net in place 24-7. Local graziers can't be expected to be available every day, every night to do this”.

Cllr Porrer said she understood Cllr Thornburrow's point about the increase in the number of dogs in the green spaces over the pandemic period, but said “the ruling group did cut the dog warden service considerably last year”.

She welcomed funds for a ramp, but said that “unfortunately the cows don't only choose to jump in in office hours, so I do think an overnight provision is going to remain essential for some considerable time”.

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