Climate Change

Here at Chillingham, we are very aware of the potential problems that climate change could bring. We are keen to minimise our carbon emissions while maximising our carbon sequestration. Please see the Carbon page for further information.

The warming climate has resulted in a change to our calving pattern, with a trend for calving earlier in the year as a result of cows being more receptive earlier in the preceding year.

Extremes of weather are also impacting Chillingham and the cattle. Storm Arwen, which hit in November 2021, did enormous damage to the woodlands surrounding the Pavilion and the Park, but luckily most of the Park escaped serious damage. We lost many of our feature trees, including early examples of north American conifers which would have been planted in the second half of the 19th century, not long after they had been introduced to England.

Whilst the storm of 2021 affected the trees, the drought of 2022 impacted the cattle. Whilst they looked good in the sun, the lack of summer grass meant that they were unable to lay down the usual internal fats. This became clear the following spring when the herd lost condition very quickly and the death rate was much higher than normal, despite there being plentiful hay.

BREEDING CHANGES

Since recording began in the Herd Book, as recommended by Charles Darwin in 1860, it has been observed that the number of calves born in winter has increased year by year. These calves were conceived 9 months previously, in spring, and it is evident that warmer springs and an earlier start to the grass growing season are bringing the cattle back into breeding condition earlier

In the British Ecological Society’s Journal of Animal Ecology, a team of ecologists, led by Dr Sarah Burthe of the Centre for Ecology & Hydrology explains that, “Cattle have a nine-month gestation period. Warm springs allow vegetation to start growing earlier, providing the cattle with more nutritious plant growth and more cows conceive earlier as a result. Winter-born calves don’t do very well and are more likely to die before they reach the age of one. This suggests that the cattle are responding to climate change but this is having a negative impact on them.”

Dr Burthe also mentions that, “The Chillingham cattle data are unique and, as far as we know, the longest mammal phenology dataset in the world.”

This study was made with data from the period 1947 to 2008. Since then, changes in the management of the herd have taken effect, which have improved calf survival. These were removal of the sheep flock that used to share the park, and introduction of a more effective hay feeding regime. There are now more Wild Cattle in the Park than ever before recorded.