A CLEVER herd of Dexter cows has learnt to associate the sound of music with a virtual fence to help protect an Iron Age hill fort in Herefordshire.

Little Doward Hill Fort built in the 5th Century BC, near Whitchurch, provided protection for a prominent Iron Age war lord.

Now the biggest battle the Woodland Trust-owned site faces is against vegetation and invasive species sweeping over it.

The charity has reached out to innovation and a small herd of Dexter cows to help protect and restore the fort and the 82 hectares of woodland around it.

Incredibly, the cunning cows have learnt to associate musical beats, played through a solar-powered collar, with a virtual fence so there is no need for a traditional wooden posts and rails.

Richard Brown, Woodland Trust site manager said: “It is a bit of a battle to preserve the fort from vegetation and we have turned to grazing a small herd of fluffy and friendly Dexter cows who have been trained to associate musical beats with a virtual fence so now the eye sore and expense of building a fence is no longer needed.

“This is a win all around for the site. For nature and restoration, the cows are ideal grazers across a wide range of species. They help spread seeds through their dung and gently move the soil around but without destruction.

“They are able to stop vegetation engulfing the fort, and the virtual fencing technology, via an app, helps us to move the herd around. The cows are very friendly, so don’t be scared - they may want to come up to you and say hello!”

Although only a small part of Little Doward Woods is ancient, it is an incredibly important habitat, providing refuge for many plants and animals, some of which are only found in isolated pockets across the UK.

Little Doward Woods forms part of the Wye Valley Special Area of Conservation and Upper Wye Gorge Site of Special Scientific Interest. There are numerous veteran oak and beech trees here, plus rare and interesting wildlife.


It is of national importance for its saproxylic beetles, including the incredibly rare Cosnard’s net-winged beetle. The ancient and veteran trees at the wood provide the deadwood and fungi these species rely on.

The Little Doward Camp is a Scheduled Monument which crowns the wood, and the battlements can still be explored today. Historians have linked the fort with the fifth-century warlord Vortigern, said to have fled here from the invading Saxons.

It was used as common land before being enclosed and turned into a Victorian deer park.

A miniature canyon was dynamited by the 1820s metal magnate Richard Blakemore, whose ‘picturesque’ landscaping of his estate here included a 70ft iron tower on the hilltop, so that his guests could gaze downriver to Monmouth.

In the 1950s the Forestry Commission planted large parts of the wood with a mixture of conifer species, including a pattern of larches and cedars to create the letters ER in celebration of the Queen’s coronation.