The Belfast Hills Partnership will be holding a special walk on Slievenacloy Nature Reserve on Saturday, July 1st, to celebrate the vital role of cattle in managing sites like Slievenacloy which are so important for their rare plants and wildlife.
“Most of our conservation sites have cattle on at this time of year and for some of our urban visitors this can be an interesting first close encounter with cows and calves,” explained Judy Meharg.
“They are here because the site managers Ulster Wildlife know they are an absolutely essential part of conserving the plants and animals on sites such as these.”
Judy continued: “Much of these rare flora and fauna are there because of centuries of ongoing grazing. Keeping the cattle out of one of these fields for a few years and the flowers would not only disappear in a mat of tall rough grasses and rushes, but take many more years to re-colonise again.
“This is one reason why these meadows are now so rare. Along the walk you will be able to see magnificent stretches of wildflowers such as butterfly orchids, frog orchids and ragged robin, all there because of the cattle keeping down the grasses and rushes which would otherwise swamp them out.
“You’ll also be introduced to the rare breeds such as Irish Moiled cattle on the site and why they are particularly suited to the job of managing these wildflower areas.”
While cattle may are not be just as important today but they were of course central to rural life in past centuries, when they were wealth - indeed currency.
Judy added: “They’ve been brought up into the hills every spring for centuries and have therefore shaped the very landscape they depend on.
“So next time you see those cows chewing on those rough grasses and rushes, you should appreciate the efforts of these four legged mowing machines which go to places no mechanical harvester can ever go.”
To find out more, come to the Ballycollin Road entrance to Slievenacloy for 10.30am on Saturday, July 1st.
The walk will be over fields so bring adequate footwear, car parking and walk free.
For further information contact Judy Meharg at 028 90603466 or visit Belfasthills.org.