Cows are unsung heroes of the countryside.

Their beauty often goes ignored - and they also play an important role in managing landscapes.

Cows like these pictured by Michaela Graham-Hyde have been vital to the management of Ashdown Forest for centuries.

Cows have been grazing Ashdown Forest for centuriesCows have been grazing Ashdown Forest for centuries (Image: Michaela Graham-Hyde)

The forest has a rich archaeological heritage and the ground contains evidence of prehistoric human activity, dating back as far as 50,000 years ago.

Cattle act as natural strimmers and lawn mowers, chomping coarse grasses and trampling the bracken. By breaking up this dense vegetation, ground is unveiled which can be an important habitat for all sorts of flora and fauna.

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This includes the nightjar, a remarkably camouflaged nocturnal bird which likes to nest in heathland.

Cattle help clear space for cleverly camouflaged nightjar to nestCattle help clear space for cleverly camouflaged nightjar to nest (Image: Ashdown Forest)

It would be a mammoth task for just the cows, so Ashdown Forst also has Exmoor ponies which feed on bramble and young shrubs.

The ponies are not truly domesticated and are managed by the forest’s teams in large enclosed areas.

Hebridean sheep, an ancient and rare breed, are adapted to surviving in difficult conditions and on vegetation which has poor nutrient content. It makes them ideal for grazing at Ashdown in summer.

(Image: Michaela Graham-Hyde)

Walkers are reminded not to feed the livestock and keep dogs on leads and out of enclosures to protect both the grazing animals and pooches.