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A small herd of Welsh Black cattle has been recruited to perform a delicate conservation task in the hills high above Llanidloes in mid-Wales.
Forestry Commission Wales enlisted the help of the Welsh Blacks, who are renowned for their hardiness, as part of a countryside management project in Dolgau Forest, near Staylittle.
Four cows will graze open land where trees were recently felled for timber to help maintain different heights of grass sward, which will allow a variety of growing plants to survive and not be choked by bigger plants or trees.
By managing the scrub and keeping some areas of the forest open, the cattle will create favourable terrain for the rare nightjar, which breeds in upland conifer forests, as well as ideal hunting habitat for owls and other rare wildlife.
The imaginative move by FC Wales local area manager Jim Ralph to use cattle to maintain biodiversity flies in the face of forest management convention, which advocates keeping farm animals out of forests to prevent them eating and trampling young trees.
However, by containing the cattle within a 40 hectare area surrounded by a stock-proof fence, it’s hoped the animals will fulfil a vital function within a controlled environment.
Jim said, “The use of grazing animals is one way we can manage woodlands to support them to provide environmental benefits both now and in the future. They walk carefully on the ground, due to the ponds and bramble and gorse on the site.
“The cattle are accustomed to these habitats and tough upland conditions, which is very important for their welfare and the success of the project.”
The cattle are owned by farmer Andrew Holmes, who hopes the move will also help him to develop his organic meat business.
Andrew, who farms near Ruthin, wants to break into a niche market for Welsh Black home-bred cattle with a refined flavour obtained from rearing cattle in these kind of conditions.
The cows will graze part of the 300 ha forest, which is managed by FC Wales on behalf of the Welsh Government, until November as part of a joint project with Montgomery Wildlife Trust and Environment Agency Wales, which has been supporting a wetland management plan for the forest.
The cattle grazing is the last stage of a progressive approach to managing the forest, which contains a mix of wetlands, open space, small rivers and shallow waters offering diverse habitats for wildlife, birds and fauna.
Other work to improve the landscape includes the planting of native broadleaved trees, such as birch and rowan.
Jim said, “By introducing the cattle to appropriate areas of the forest, we can enhance the open habitat within the woodland to support wildlife and plants in an environmentally friendly way, without the use of heavy machinery.”
A similar experiment using cattle provided by Andrew to manage heather sites in Clocaenog Forest, near Bron Bannog, succeeded in creating a favourable environment for Black Grouse.
NOTES TO EDITORS
A total of 14.3 per cent of Wales is covered by woodlands. Of this, 38% (126,000 hectares/311,000 acres) is owned by the Welsh Government.
Forestry Commission Wales is the Welsh Government’s department of forestry and manages these woodlands on its behalf.
For more information on how Forestry Commission Wales manages Dolgau Forest, contact Jim Ralph on 01686 411043, mobile 07815 186996, email email@example.com
More information on the woodlands of Wales is available on www.forestry.gov.uk/wales
Press office contact: Clive Davies on 0300 068 0061, mobile 07788 190922, email firstname.lastname@example.org