Grazing cattle helping to protect rare butterflies

Darlington and Stockton Times: Luing cattle at High House Farm, Winster, Cumbria – Picture: Rob Grange Photography Luing cattle at High House Farm, Winster, Cumbria – Picture: Rob Grange Photography

A HERD of shaggy four-legged conservation heroes is helping an upland farm in the Lake District to become a haven for some of the countrys most endangered butterflies.

A herd of Luing cattle has been recruited to graze the land at High House Farm to help safeguard a future for Cumbrias endangered high brown fritillary butterflies by creating ideal habitat for the rare insects.

The butterfly is giving cause for concern as its population has crashed by more than 90 per cent since the 1970s.

The high brown fritillary butterfly depends for its lifecycle on woodlands and on grassland habitat where there is sufficient light to promote growth of violets, which are the favoured food plant of the butterflys larva.

Under a Natural England Higher Level Stewardship scheme, the Luing herd is grazing a Site of Special Scientific Interest (SSSI) at High House Farm, Winster, in Cumbria where their trampling and grazing helps to keep bracken in check, which in turn allows violet plants to grow and the high brown fritillary butterflies to thrive.

To help showcase the environmental and commercial benefits of keeping the breed, the Luing Cattle Society is breaking with nearly four decades of tradition by hosting its annual open day in England for the first time ever.

The event takes place on the afternoon of Friday, August 1, at High House Farm, which overlooks Lake Windermere. It is being supported by Natural Englands Cumbria team, which hopes that more farmers will come to appreciate the particular environmental qualities that grazing Luings can bring.

Farm Manager, Alec Smith, has found that the Luings hardy, Highland heritage makes them perfectly suited to the Lakeland fells and, as well as providing the farm with an income from rearing the cattle, he is delighted that the herd is helping improve the wildlife habitats.

Alec said: "We have worked hard over the past ten years to establish and grow a pedigree herd of Luing cattle at High House Farm. The Luings have demonstrated many, valuable benefits to our farm and to our landscape.

"We needed a breed that could manage adequately our rough, Lakeland land with minimal handling, yet still deliver productivity and a high commercial yield.

"We are delighted to host this years open day at High House Farm and to be working with Natural England and Butterfly Conservation to share our experiences of working with the Luings."

Simon Humphries, Natural Englands area manager for Cumbria, said: "We are delighted that the Luing Cattle Societys open day will be held in the Lakes for the first time this summer. Luing cattle are proving to be an excellent native breed to use where conservation grazing is needed and very well-suited to the uplands of Cumbria.

"One of the reasons why Natural England is so pleased to support the open day is that this is a great example of how enhancing the environment also makes good commercial sense and shows that these two factors can go hand in hand."

The open day will provide an opportunity for local and national farmers, existing and potential Luing breeders, environmentalists and food, farming, and forestry industry representatives to find out more about the breed.

The event is also intended to be an enjoyable, educational experience for members of the general public with the chance to see the Luing herd grazing the farm, join guided walks to discover the areas special wildlife, and enjoy plenty of other activities throughout the afternoon.

Anyone who would like to attend this free event is invited to register, log on to winsterluings.tumblr.com/openday2014. For more information, contact Mary Houston on 07849-377017, at highhousefarm@hotmail.co.uk, or visit the web site at winsterluings.tumblr.com.

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