THESE awe-inspiring pictures were taken this morning after thousands of wildebeest were released onto Minchinhampton Common as part of a pioneering conservation initiative.

Motorists and residents were treated to sublime scenes of natural beauty as herds of the magnificent creatures swept majestically across the ancient grazing land, creating an exotic vista normally restricted to the plains of Africa.

Drivers and cyclists are being urged to take extra care while the beasts – which have yet to be fitted with reflected collars - get used to their new surroundings.

The National Trust says the animals will mix well with the 500 cows which graze on Minchinhampton, Rodborough and Selsley commons between May and October every year, and it is hoped that the new arrivals will attract tourists to the area, boosting the local economy.

SNJ photographer Steve Richards, who was among the first to take pictures as dawn broke this morning, witnessed a dramatic stampede from Tom Long’s Post to Winstones Ice Cream, as the animals explored their new home.

“Seeing these wonderful creatures gave me a deep and profound sense of tranquillity and a feeling of oneness with nature,” he said.

“I never thought I would photograph a wildebeest stampede in the heart of Gloucestershire.”

Staff at Winstones said several of the more inquisitive bovines had ventured down the bank to the parlour, where they were rewarded with icy treats.

However, the new neighbours have not been welcomed by everyone.

Arthur Humorous, chairman of Box Parish Council, said there should have been more public consultation.

“The parish council was not informed or consulted about the release of wildebeest onto the commons, and this, we feel, was something of an oversight,” he said.

UPDATE AT NOON: We hope everyone enjoyed our April Fool - however the cows will be released as usual next month, please take extra care when driving across the commons.

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