Lawn mow­ers with per­son­al­ity

Macclesfield Express - - WILDLIFE -

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 chad­don@lanc­ 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

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