Lawn mowers with personality
THE Lancashire Wildlife Trust has stacks of volunteers working for wildlife of all shapes and sizes. There are tall ones, short ones, slim ones and one or two who are doing it to lose a couple of pounds - I need to do a bit more.
We have youths working as part of their degrees, office workers taking a day out in the countryside and retired folk bringing decades of experience to help our nature reserves and the creatures that live there.
We also have volunteers with horns and hooves.
Over the past five years we have relied on Exmoor ponies, Hebridean sheep and magnificent longhorn cattle to act as ‘lawn mowers’.
Concentrating on the longhorns, these animals are superb at removing coarse grasses which would, otherwise, involve backbreaking work for our staff and human volunteers.
The cows don’t nibble or chomp the grass, they actually wrap their long tongues around the vegetation and pull it into their mouths. It leaves a tussocky look to the fields, compared to flat meadows after grazing by horses or sheep.
What’s so great about tussocks? Apart from the fact that tussocks is such a great word to use, in polite society it was a term of endearment for a friend.
Actually the uneven mix of tussocks and bare earth is great for wildlife in many ways. The tussocks provide mini-habitats; little towns for a whole host of insects. The bare earth is a great place for seeds to set.
All this means plants will grow in spring and there is a ready source of food for invertebrates and birds. Waders, like lapwing and curlew, love to get their beaks into these areas.
If you visit our Cutacre nature reserve on the border of Salford and Wigan you will see the difference clearly. We have an area rented to a farmer for his horses next to the wider reserve where cows are stomping their mark on the land. The horse area looks flatter and more even.
It’s also a good sign to humans that any area they find difficult to walk on is good for wildlife. So, keep off the tussocks!
The English longhorns that we use should not be confused with American longhorns. Our cattle have local ancestors dating back to the 16th Century and probably before.
Some people feel that their long horns give them a fierce look, but look more closely at their faces and thick brown and white coat, with white belly, and they are rather cute. They all look different and horns can differ from quite straight efforts to seriously wonky.
They were bred as beef cattle but were excellent draught animals because of their size and their milk has a high butterfat content, making them great all-rounders.
They are docile cattle great for our reserves but, as with any animal, they should be treated with caution - particularly if a calf is on the scene. Cows get very protective of their young. Also take care with dogs, a couple of times I have had to sprint when a herd of heifers takes a keen interest in my pooch.
Some of our human volunteers enjoy working with the longhorns and act as cattle counters, checking on their health and well-being.
If you are passing our reserves in Wigan, Salford or Preston give our longhorn a wave and thank them for attracting the wildlife around them. Interested in becoming a volunteer on a project near you? Contact Catherine Haddon on 01772 324129 or firstname.lastname@example.org. uk. To support the work of the Wildlife Trust for Lancashire, Manchester and North Merseyside. Text WILD09 with the amount you want to donate to 70070.
●● Straight horns on one of the longhorn cattle