Geltsdale reserve has large open areas of moorland and woodland pasture which are grazed primarily with cattle. Standard post and wire livestock fencing can be extremely difficult to erect due to the topography and inaccessibility of the some of the grazing compartments. Conventional fencing can also be problematic for bird species such as black grouse which can get caught up in the wire and perish.

Nofence is an invisible fencing system whereby the cow wears a GPS collar unit which plays an audible melody and if necessary, emit an electric pulse to the neck to deter the animal from crossing a virtual boundary. A grazing area or pasture is created using a mapping app which then communicates with the collar on the cow. When the animal approaches the Nofence boundary, the collar emits the audio melody warning to deter the cow from crossing the line.

The signal resembles a scale of tones, starting at a low pitch and rising gradually as the cow approaches the Nofence boundary. The animal will recognise this tone scale, turn, and go back to the Nofence pasture to avoid the electric pulse.

With funding from the AONB Fellfoot Forward project, the reserve purchased an invisible fence system from NoFence to aid with cattle management and pulse grazing.

19 collars were fitted to 15 month old luing cattle, and following training, they were introduced into the East side of Bruthwaite woodland plantation in a 60ha Nofence enclosure. The intention was to create disturbance, trample bracken and allow areas to be grazed that hadn’t seen livestock for 15 years – all the while keeping cattle away from footpaths and reserve infrastructure.

It was surprising to see how quickly the cows learned to avoid the invisible boundary, guided by the audio warning. Behaving as a herd, if one cow triggered the warning the other cows would hear and respond to it and turn the other way. The cows soon got used to the system and obviously enjoyed their new pasture with an abundance of food and wealth of stimulation.  

The smartphone application communicates with the collar and allows us and the farmer to see where the cows are at all times and respond to any issues. Heatmaps can also be produced to see where the cows have been focussing their attention. This enables us to adjust the pasture or move it completely if the cows are eating too much of the dwarf shrubs which black grouse favour. It has been great to see black grouse moving in to use the cattle grazed areas.