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Highlanders Brought In to Help Keep Heathland Site Special

A herd of Highland cattle are the latest recruits in a project that will help enhance the natural beauty of an area of special heathland in Cumbria.

Highlanders recruited to help at heathland site

Spreading hay meadow seed in green hay  in Upper Teesdale

A small herd of the cattle will be brought in to graze Gaythorne Plain near Crosby Ravensworth by local farmer David Hewitt. The arrival of the cattle will provide a much-needed helping ‘hoof’ for the unusual grasses and wild flowers that grow in the limestone-rich soil of the area.

As blue moor grass has spread across the Common it is out-competing and overwhelming the native wildflower species - such as wild thyme, common rock-rose, milkwort, fairy flax and mouse-ear hawkweed - which also grow on the site. Highland cattle will happily eat the tough moor grass, helping to open up new areas where the wildflowers will be able to seed. This will in turn increase the variety of butterflies, insects and other wildlife. The Highlanders, which despite their horns have a very placid nature, will be grazing Gaythorne Plain between mid-May and mid-October each year.

Motorists using the B6260 between Appleby and Tebay can expect to see the new shaggy additions to the landscape arrive soon and should be alert for any animals that stray close to the road. Drivers are asked to drive with extra care and watch their speed when there are cattle on site. Fold-out warning signs have been erected on the Common and these will be displayed when cattle are present to help make drivers aware.

Cattle management techniques will be used to encourage the animals to keep away from the road and they will be fitted with reflective ‘collars’. Satellite technology is also being deployed and one of the cows will be fitted with a GPS satellite-linked collar to assist with herding the animals.

The Crosby Graziers Group and Lowther Estates are supporting the use of cattle to graze the Common and the project is part of a Natural England Higher Level Stewardship scheme agreement. Over time, the grazing cattle will boost the overall biodiversity importance of the area, much of which is a nationally important Site of Special Scientific Interest (SSSI).

Deborah Land, SSSI adviser in Natural England’s Cumbria team, said: "Crosby Ravensworth Fell is important as one of the largest of the few remaining areas of dry heathland at this altitude within Cumbria and also supports a mosaic of limestone grassland which is of European importance. The main part of the Common is designated as a Site of Special Scientific Interest and Special Area of Conservation. Whilst Gaythorne Plain is not itself part of the designated site, it provides a vital stepping stone for wildlife on the Orton Fells, linking Crosby Fell to Great Asby Scar and beyond.”

David Hewitt of Bank Head Farm said: “The cattle will do very well here as they are traditionally used to graze this type of ground. They like the rough grazing and it’s similar to the kind of places where they originated in the highlands of Scotland. It is also this type of grazing that flavours the meat which we sell at the local Crosby Ravensworth market.”

Cattle are also being successfully used on neighbouring sites and are already helping to improve the biodiversity on other parts of Crosby Common as well as at Tarn Moor, Little Asby and Crosby Garrett Commons.

Tim Nicholson, Natural England agri-environment adviser, added: “We want to keep sites like this special for the future, and bringing in the cattle is a natural and cost-effective way of keeping the grass short enough to allow the growth of wildflowers within the heathland and grassland habitat.

“The Highland cattle will eat tough plants such as moor grass and matt grass, which other livestock find unpalatable, and help to break up dead vegetation with their hooves. This provides bare ground where wildflower seeds can germinate and create new places where wildlife can thrive.”

Natural England runs Environmental Stewardship farming schemes in England on behalf of Defra. Environmental Stewardship scheme payments help farmers and other land managers in England to protect wildlife and enhance the natural environment as part of their farm businesses.

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