The herd of English Longhorns at Brockholes Nature Reserve
- Credit: Archant
The Cows shaping the countryside
If you escape the Visitor Village at Brockholes Nature Reserve past the lively playground and out towards the ancient Boilton Wood, you will come upon a tranquil, pastoral landscape, a canvas from hundreds of years ago.
On the damp, stubbly fields you will see longhorn cattle grazing on the grasslands, and you will transport yourself back to a rural Lancashire of times past.
For starters the English Longhorns – we prefer “Lancashire cattle” – were bred for many hundreds of years for their beef and milk production. Their butter and cheese has a high butterfat content.
And these sturdy beasts were also excellent as draught animals – good for pulling ploughs. Watch out in Braveheart as the two longhorns pull a cart carrying the father of a young William Wallace, who was actually Mel Gibson.
Originally from the disputed lands around Skipton, our Longhorns have horns that hang down unlike the American variety that stand up.
This actually makes them look quite cute and every cow we have at Brockholes appears to have its own distinctive character.
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We don’t just employ these cattle because they look pretty. They are found on a number of Lancashire Wildlife Trust nature reserves – Lightshaw Meadows, Wigan Flashes, Mere Sands Wood and Freshfield Dune Heath – because of the way they eat the grass.
Longhorns will grab at the grass and tear clumps out of the ground. This leaves tussocky, uneven ground which isn’t good for walking on but it’s great for wading birds dibbing for insects with their long bills. And it makes a good place for ground-nesting birds too.
Recently the Trust received a grant of more than £76,000 from Biffa Award, a landfill communities fund and the Lancashire Environmental Fund, to link grasslands at Brockholes, creating larger areas for birds, insects and plants to thrive. It linked habitats that suited birds like lapwing, oystercatcher, redshank, common sandpiper and ringed plover.
While money was available for security fences to keep out predators such as fox and mink that would threaten birds’ nests, the main players in this award were those wonderful Longhorn cattle.
Reserve Officer Duncan Goulder told me: ‘Cattle create a great variety in the structure of the vegetation through their selective eating. A varied structure means that lots of different types of flowers and insects can find a home.
‘The cows also eat young self-seeded trees, which would otherwise have a negative effect on both the grassland and adjacent breeding bird habitat.’
So as the cows munch through the grasslands, they probably don’t realise the good work they are doing. These conservation grazing methods have been used for some years by Lancashire Wildlife Trust.
We also employ sheep, goats and, a couple of times, pigs, which echo the good work that wild boar used to do in our woodlands, tearing up the ground and bringing seeds up to the surface for new growth.
So the next time you are wandering around Brockholes, spare a couple of minutes to say hello to our strongest and most prolific volunteers, the English Longhorns.
The Wildlife Trust for Lancashire, Manchester and North Merseyside is dedicated to the protection and promotion of the wildlife in Lancashire, seven boroughs of Greater Manchester and four of Merseyside, all lying north of the River Mersey. It manages around 40 nature reserves and 20 Local Nature Reserves covering acres of woodland, wetland, upland and meadow. The Trust has 29,000 members, and over 1,200 volunteers.
To become a member of the Trust go to the website at www.lancswt.org.uk or call 01772 324129.