Stephen Hall is Professor of Animal Science at the University of Lincoln and a Trustee of the Chillingham Wild Cattle Association. Professor Hall writes:

The Chillingham Wild White Cattle have a unique place in the British fauna. They are one of the very few herds of cattle anywhere in the world that have a natural sex ratio and age distribution, and where there is no castration.

The cattle are included in the standard world catalogue of livestock breeds and feature in the UK national inventory of livestock genetic resources.

The number of cattle in the herd fluctuates but is now relatively stable. The last major variation was the reduction to just five bulls and eight cows in the harsh winter of 1947. To try to ensure the survival of the cattle should conditions affect the herd at Chillingham, we have established a reserve herd at a secret location in Scotland.

No evidence of notifiable disease has been identified in the herd, clinically or at autopsy. The herd has never been tuberculin tested. The absence of evidence of tuberculosis, the isolation of the herd, the fact that the cattle do not enter the food chain and the likelihood that confining the herd for testing might provoke panic and possibly lead to the deaths of young animals, all argue against any imposition of a testing regime. By agreement with Defra, monitoring is based on the culling every year of an animal for veterinary inspection.

In addition, since 1950, a total of 64 Chillingham cattle (about 14% of the animals born into the herd) have undergone post mortem examination, ranging from full post mortem including worm counts, culture and histology (conducted at veterinary investigation centres on entire carcasses), to field autopsy with laboratory examination of samples.

Behaviour – why study it?

In 1973 Tinbergen, Lorenz and von Frisch shared a Nobel Prize for their experimental behavioural work and today animal behaviour is every bit as rigorous and scientific as any other branch of biology. It tells us about evolution, and provides underpinning for animal welfare studies.

Back in the 1970s it was thought that studying cattle in a free-living state to discover their natural behaviours would help with improving their welfare on farms. This approach has certainly worked with pigs where work on free-ranging and wild herds has been crucially important in designing housing systems and herd management procedures. But life for the Chillingham cattle is so radically different from that of, say, veal calves or dairy cows or feedlot bulls that it’s hard to draw any conclusions relevant to welfare.

However, behavioural comparisons of Chillingham cows and bulls have told us a lot about the general zoology of large mammals. This is knowledge of interest in its own right and helps us to understand how to manage and conserve the herd.

It’s easy to forget that in her life a normal cow – whether on a farm or at Chillingham – will only show sexual behaviour maybe 4 or 5 times. Each time she gets pregnant her next period of receptivity will be at least a month after she calves. But with year-round breeding, bulls may have mating opportunities at any time. This is quite unlike what happens in animals like red deer that have a seasonal rut when the males only show sexual behaviour during a couple of months. So the whole structure of bull behaviour at Chillingham is different – both from the cows, and from almost all other large wild mammals.

This shows in their everyday behaviour. Timing with a stopwatch, for instance, how long a bull spends munching at a patch of grass you can see that bulls have shorter daytime bouts of most of what we call maintenance behaviours – grazing, rubbing against an object, lying, walking – while these bouts are longer at night.

It adds up to a picture of the bulls being more distractible than cows and this is presumably because they have to be constantly on the alert for cows coming into heat, and for rival bulls.

Cows have quite a complex social system based on pairwise relationships between individuals – the basic building block of the herd may be a mother/daughter bond but this hasn’t been confirmed. It could equally well be the links between the females born in a particular year. But bulls have a simple pecking order when they are forced into the same area.

This used to happen during hay feeding, but in the interests of protecting little calves we don’t feed them that way any more. The rest of the time they tend to live in groups with others of the same age, and certainly when numbers were lower than they are today each of these cliques shared a particular home range in the park and no one bull had complete freedom to range over the whole area – though the main herd, comprising cows and calves and young bulls – did.

Now that numbers have become quite high this picture has become very muddled. Especially because as numbers have risen the sex ratio of the herd has changed. There used to be, in most years, many more females than males (equal numbers of male and female calves are born) but when conditions are favourable – as they seem to be, currently – survival rates of males of all ages are much better.

Here is a list of publications relevant to the Chillingham herd:

Chillingham Cattle: an academic bibliography

Stephen J.G. Hall MA PhD
(Emeritus Professor of Animal Science, University of Lincoln)
(formerly Visiting Lecturer, Estonian University of Life Sciences, Kreutzwaldi 5, 51074 Tartu, Estonia)

[email protected]
February 2024


During the 19th century the Chillingham cattle began to attract considerable academic interest. First brought to popular notice by Thomas Bewick (Uglow, 2006) and to the attention of agriculturists by Bailey and Culley (1794), the herd was mentioned by Darwin (1868) in the contexts of behaviour and inbreeding. The cattle, and those of other parks, were also mentioned in zoological texts such as (Harting, 1880) and in a special report for the British Association for the Advancement of Science (Hughes, 1887). Whitehead (1953) updated Storer (1877) to produce the most authoritative account of the history of the herds of parkland white cattle in Britain, though both accounts are uncritical in many important respects.

In recent years genetic techniques have been applied to the cattle which will cast light on their origins and their relationships with other breeds. Skeletal material has contributed to the development of zooarchaeology. Veterinary investigations are of relevance not only to the health and welfare of the cattle, but can also contribute to the development of animal science. Chillingham Park, as a designed landscape that was probably developed from medieval wood pasture has attracted attention as a subject of study in its own right.

This earlier secondary material is not reviewed exhaustively in the present bibliography which concentrates upon reports that describe or summarise original scientific or historical work on the cattle and on Chillingham Park. Material on the family of the Earls of Tankerville, former owners of the herd, is included if broadly relevant. Papers, books and chapters where the Chillingham cattle were not the prime topic are also included, if this is where material unobtainable elsewhere is to be found. This bibliography will be updated periodically.


Bibliography in chronological order

Shirley (1867)

Catalogue of British deer parks, with passing mention of Chillingham.

Bateman (1883)

The Tankerville estates in historical context; total area in Northumberland was 28,930 acres (and 2,493 acres in Shropshire).

Hughes (1887)

Descriptive report prepared for British Association on the “wild white cattle” of Chartley, Chillingham, Lyme, Cadzow, Somerford, Middleton and Vaynol, no inferences being drawn as to their origin.

Hodgson (1916)

Further historical background on Tankerville estates.

Dodds (1935)

Succinct, authoritative account of history of Chillingham Park and the neighbourhood referring to original sources. Reproduces important estate map. Essential background reading for anyone investigating Chillingham history.

Tankerville (1956)

General account, reference to herd sharing Park with “nine score” South Country Cheviot ewes.

Bilton (1957)

Includes original work on skull anatomy, derived from work on specimens in Natural History Museum, London, showing affinities of Chillingham cattle with present-day breeds.

Hodgson (1967)

Critical reappraisal of 1916 investigations at Corstopitum (Hadrian’s Wall), which had led to the unjustified assertion of a Roman influence on the cattle of the region.

Pearson (1968)

Comments on widespread occurrence of cattle breeds with similar coloration to that of Chillingham cattle. Concludes coloration cannot be a reliable indicator of breed affinity, suggests “a study of blood characteristics may offer the most promising direction for future research”.

Lancaster and Hong (1971)

Parasitological study. No new species were found.

Gilbert (1972)

Study of lichens in Chillingham Park. Little of any interest found.

Grigson (1974)

Craniology of Chillingham cattle (specimens gathered during 19th century and mid-20th century), in relation to that of other breeds.

Bennet (1979)

The only publication by Hon. Ian Bennet who was intimately involved with management of the herd from the 1960s until his death in 1998. Includes useful material on management.

Davies and Turner (1979)

Pollen analysis from sites including the moors above and to the east of Chillingham Park.

Hall (1979)

Account of fieldwork in progress at Chillingham; a field study conducted full time from 1977 to 1980. Includes first account of home range behaviour of bulls.

Armitage (1982); Clutton-Brock (1982); Grigson (1982)

Important papers on body dimensions of British cattle from the prehistoric aurochs and early domesticated cattle, to the improved breeds of the 18th century. Chillingham not mentioned, but these studies are of prime significance for formulating hypotheses on their origin and breed affinities.

Hall (1983)

Abstract of conference paper on work in progress. Superseded by Hall (1989b).

Hall and Bunce (1984)

Vegetation survey of the Park, conducted in 1979. An early example of indicator species analysis, a popular multivariate statistical approach to characterising plant communities.

Hall (1985)

Transcript of conference paper on work in progress. Reports unpublished data of Dr. R.R. Ashdown on testicular hypoplasia of bulls, and data on body weights and horn lengths.

Hall and Moore (1986)

Comparisons are drawn with the Chillingham herd in this account of feral cattle on the Orkney island of Swona.

Hall (1986)

Four year study on social interactions during hay feeding. Bulls have a simple hierarchy that changes from winter to winter, while cows have more complex and stable social structure.

Rackham (1986)

Brief mentions of Chillingham and other park herds, with important critical insights on history.

Hall (1988)

Application of results of Hall and Bunce (1984) to interpreting movement of cattle around Park. Probably first direct application of vegetation ordination to understanding the ecology of mammals.

Hall and Clutton-Brock (1988)

Chapters on Chillingham and on White Park cattle.

Hall and Hall (1988)

Reports blood group results gathered over several years which indicated marked genetic uniformity in the herd, together with no obvious affinity to any other breed. Investigation of key mortality and fecundity factors, with reference to data gathered in the 19th and 20th centuries. Evidently, viability of herd had not declined since then, in spite of inbreeding.

Hall et al. (1988)

Behavioural and sonagraphic study of vocalisations. Previously unreported diversity of bull vocalisations interpreted in terms of social context.

Hall (1989a)

Update of Hall (1979) with further historical material.

Hall (1989b)

Ethological study on fine structure of behaviour with comparisons between the sexes. Using vegetation results of Hall and Bunce (1984), interprets grazing behaviour in terms of a measure of sward quality.

Hall (1989c)

Synoptic review of herd and park.

Schwabe and Hall (1989)

Includes material on calving mortality.

Hall (1991)

General account including material not published elsewhere on body weights and diseases.

Hall (1992)

Report of first steps of landscape repair in Chillingham Park by the new owners.

Ritvo (1992)

Sociological perspective on the Victorian interest in the Chillingham cattle.

Beasley et al. (1993)

Osteological study of Chillingham and other cattle, for application in archaeology.

Jessop and Boyd (1996)

Discusses source of text and illustrations published by Thomas Bewick.

Yalden (1999)

Includes brief resumé of Chillingham herd in context of mammal fauna of Britain.

Brownlie (2001)

Mentions Chillingham herd briefly, in context of discussion on policy towards genetic resources threatened by foot-and-mouth disease.

Visscher et al. (2001)

Reports remarkably high level of microsatellite homozygosity. Updates Hall and Hall (1988) and suggests slow inbreeding has purged harmful recessives from the Chillingham cattle.

Defra (2002)

Inventory of UK breeds, includes Chillingham.

Hemming (2002)

Critical review of accounts from British and Irish folklore, of cultural importance of red-eared white cattle.

Ingham (2002)

Reports congenital malformation of dentition.

Landscapes and Gardens, University of York (2002)

Entry of Chillingham Park and the Castle gardens in database.

Porter (2002)

Fifth edition of this definitive inventory of breed names. Updated 2016 (see below).

Schama (2002)

Bewick’s woodcut of the Chillingham bull is described as “an image of massive power … the great, perhaps the greatest icon of British natural history, and one loaded with moral, national and historical sentiment as well as purely zoological fascination”

Alderson (2003)

Cites Chillingham cattle in context of developing prioritisation protocols.

Gaillard and Yoccoz (2003)

In the course of a review of population dynamics, reports intrinsic rate of increase of Chillingham cattle as (lambda) 1.06 which is broadly similar to what is seen in other large herbivores.

Ingham (2003)

Succinct account of herd history.

Hall (2004)

Reference to Chillingham cattle in context of new method of prioritising breeds for conservation.

JNCC (2004)

Status of parkland and wood pasture in Britain and Habitat Action Plan.

Countryside Agency (2005)

Landscape character of Chillingham area.

Hall et al. (2005)

Review, in the state veterinary service journal, of how management of the herd is reconciled with veterinary and legal requirements.

Ingham (2005)

Report of a Chillingham calf, born without a tail.

Hall (2006)

Update of Hall (1989c), with particular reference to the policy environment.

Hall (2007)

Preliminary outline of history of Chillingham Park, mainly deals with late 18th century remodelling of pre-existing park.

Hall and Putman (2008)

Updates Hall (1991) and includes comparative material on extensively husbanded cattle elsewhere.

Hall (2010)

History of Chillingham Park, mainly deals with late 18th century remodelling of pre-existing park, with reference to national and regional trends.

McGowan (2010)

Conservation management plan prepared with support from Natural England, not yet publicly available.

Burthe et al. (2011)

Reports possible effect of climate change on timing of breeding in the Chillingham herd.

Fletcher (2011)

General history of deer parks with passing references to Chillingham.

Hall and Bunce (2011)

Description of tree population of Chillingham Park.

Ballingall et al. (2012)

Report of remarkable degree of genetic uniformity within immune system of Chillingham cattle.

Defra (2013)

Inventory and census of UK breeds, includes Chillingham.

Hall (2012)

General account of history, biology and management.

Hindmarch and Hall (2012)

General review in context of European pastoralist systems.

Hudson et al. (2012)

Mitochondrial DNA genotype of Chillingham cattle.

Brenig et al. (2013)

Genetic mechanism of coat coloration in some British white breeds, possibly similar to situation in Chillingham cattle, though this is yet to be studied formally.

Bunce and Hall (2013)

Comparison of vegetation of Park in 1979 and in 2008.

Hall (2013)

History of Chillingham Park with particular reference to trees, and relevance to wood-pasture conservation and management.

Natural England (2013)

Description of Chillingham landscape.

Ritvo (2013)

Development of ideas presented by Ritvo (1992).

Ellis and Hammond (2014)

Report of remarkable degree of genetic uniformity within immune system of Chillingham cattle.

Towers et al. (2014, 2016)

Isotopic composition of Chillingham teeth studied in relation to seasonality of birth and in relation to archaeological methodologies relating to prehistoric dairying.

Orozco-terWengel et al. (2015)

Paper comparing SNP genotype of Chillingham cattle with those of other breeds.

Williams et al. (2015)

Report of SNP genotype of Chillingham cattle with emphasis on extreme homozygosity.

Bahn & Mutimer (Eds.) (2016)

Multi-author book on Chillingham Cattle, Castle and Church. Obtainable from Chillingham Wild Cattle Association.

van Asperen et al. (2016)

Study of fungal spores in dung of Chillingham cattle in development of palaeoecological methodologies.

Porter et al. (2016)

Definitive compendium on world mammalian livestock breeds, including entry on Chillingham cattle.

Thackeray et al. (2016)

Chillingham data used in broad survey of responses of organisms to climate change.

La Poutré (2017)

Chillingham body weights used in study of medieval husbandry

Schwartz et al. (2017)

Chillingham material used in study of immune systems.

Towers et al. (2017)

Isotopic composition of Chillingham teeth studied in relation to husbandry systems of Bronze Age cattle.

van Asperen (2017)

Further study of fungal spores in dung of Chillingham cattle assists development of palaeoecological methodologies.

Wagner et al. (2017)

Occurrence of tail-less calves supports hypothesis on birth defects in cloned cattle.

Cummings and Morris (2018)

Chillingham data used in development of hypothesis on Neolithic importation of husbanded cattle.

Thomas et al (2018)

Horn cores from Chillingham argue for re-interpretation of zooarchaeological material.

Hall and Bunce (2019)

Combined study of changes in vegetation and in cattle numbers at Chillingham.

Van Asperen et al. (2019)

Deposition of fungal spores in relation to that of pollen: field experiments at Chillingham.

Gibson et al. (2020)

Chillingham material assists in characterisation of cattle immunogenetics and reveals lack of diversity in the herd.

Hall et al. (2021)

Genetics of coat colour and inferences on male fertility and breed origins of Chillingham cattle.

Thomas et al. (2021)

Chillingham skeletons elucidate processes of ageing facilitating identification of cattle traction in archaeozoological contexts.

Van Asperen et al. (2023)

Pollen diagram from Chillingham Park illuminates Iron Age vegetation history.

Reference List

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Armitage, P.L. (1982) Developments in British cattle husbandry from the Romano-British period to early modern times. Ark 9, 50-54.

Auld, R.C. (1888) The wild cattle of Great Britain. American Naturalist 20, 498-509.

Bahn, P. G., Mutimer, V. B. (Eds.) (2016) Chillingham. Its cattle, castle and church. Fonthill Media.

Bailey, J., and Culley, G. (1794) General view of the agriculture of the county of Northumberland with observations on the means of its improvement. Board of Agriculture, London.

Ballingall, K.T., Steele, P., and Hall, S.J.G. (2012) A complete lack of functional MHC diversity within an apparently healthy population of large mammals. Immunology 137, 69.

Bateman, J. (1883) The great landowners of Great Britain and Ireland. Reprinted 1971, Leicester University Press.

Beasley, M.J., Brown, W.A.B., and Legge, A.J. (1993) Metrical discrimination between mandibular first and second molars in domestic cattle. International Journal of Osteoarchaeology 3, 303-314.

Bennet, I. (1979) The challenge of Chillingham Park. Roebuck. Journal of the Northumberland Wildlife Trust 26, 13-18.

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Brownlie, J. (2001) Strategic decisions to evaluate before implementing a vaccine programme in the face of a foot-and-mouth disease (FMD) outbreak. Veterinary Record 148, 358-360.

Bunce, R.G.H., and Hall, S.J.G. (2013) Vegetation change from 1979 to 2008 at Chillingham Park in relation to conservation of the Chillingham Wild Cattle. Northumbrian Naturalist (Transactions of the Natural History Society of Northumbria) 75, 18-30.

Burthe, S., Butler, A., Searle, K.R., Hall, S.J.G., and Thackeray, S.J. (2011) Demographic consequences of increased winter births in a large aseasonally breeding mammal (Bos taurus L.) in response to climate change. Journal of Animal Ecology 80, 1134-1144.

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Dodds, M.H. (1935) Chillingham parish. Area and population. In A history of Northumberland (Victoria County History) Vol. XIV (ed. by M.H. Dodds), pp.301-306. Andrew Reid, Newcastle upon Tyne.

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Fletcher, T.J. (2011) Gardens of earthly delight. The history of deer parks. Windgather Press, Oxford.

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Hall, S.J.G. (1989c) The white herd of Chillingham. Journal of the Royal Agricultural Society of England 150, 112-119.

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Hall, S. J. G. (2008) A comparative analysis of the habitat of the extinct aurochs and other prehistoric mammals in Britain. Ecography, 31, 187-190.

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