There were no Luing cattle on the nature reserve at the time of this walk, as the recent snow had been too harsh for the pregnant cows to graze well; though they left their traces– from trodden tracks to tangled fur on the fences.
Rachel, a student volunteer with Cumbria Wildlife Trust, led the walk with enthusiasm. She discussed the importance of hay meadows, and how they have declined by 97% in the last century. This is why Cumbria Wildlife Trust have strived to create new hay meadows at Eycott Hill, as part of the Coronation Meadows Project – a project initiated by The Prince of Wales to celebrate the 60th anniversary of the Queen’s Coronation, aiming to create at least one new wild flower meadow in every county. Rachel explained the progress of the hay meadows at Eycott Hill, and how they are created and managed.
We also learnt how Cumbria Wildlife Trust use cattle to help manage the land across the nature reserve. As they walk, their weight tramples the ground, creating different structure to the vegetation, and creating patches of bare earth which allows seeds to grow in these areas.
Conservation grazing with cattle helps a variety of species to flourish and boosts botanical diversity. This is because cattle graze differently by pulling up tufts of vegetation with their tongues, rather than nibbling close to the ground like sheep. Cattle tend to browse, leaving tussocky swards for a more varied structure to the vegetation that benefits small mammals and insects.