The ongoing COVID-19 pandemic has affected much of the normal day-to-day activity at SNH but, as featured in yesterday’s Scotland on Sunday newspaper, a few staff are still out and about to carry out essential work. Here Gordon Campbell, one of our nature reserve officers, tells us about checking on the welfare of the 14 native cattle owned and managed by SNH at our Taynish National Nature Reserve.
At Taynish the cattle help improve biodiversity and maintain designated features. They are an essential tool in managing habitats for a huge variety of species including the rare marsh fritillary butterfly. They improve the woodland structure through browsing and trampling, allowing more light to penetrate the ground and optimising conditions for tree regeneration and woodland plants.
The cattle are all native breed – Highland, Shetland and Belted Galloway – and live outdoors, year round on the reserve. These breeds have been selected for their hardiness and their adaptation to maintain condition on rougher forage. In winter, we provide supplementary feeding in the form of hay, concentrates and mineral licks.
Living a relatively stress free, semi-natural existence, they have freedom to graze and browse on a wide variety of plants and woody material. They appear in good health and seem to benefit from the predominantly natural forage they obtain on the reserve. They are placid, even tempered and easily managed which is a major consideration when keeping any livestock on a public access site.
During lockdown, it has been considered essential to maintain cattle checking as a welfare concern. This involves three visits a week and takes an hour or two per visit. As someone who spends the majority of work time there carrying out site management this albeit limited dose of ‘Taynish time’ has helped me deal with being otherwise confined at home. I feel very privileged to be able to continue to access what is a stunning reserve particularly at this time of year and in this glorious weather we have been seeing in the west. It really is beautiful there just now as spring starts to hold sway.
Maybe it’s the lack of people, the dark shadow of the background pandemic, the freakishly good weather but everything just seems a bit different to my eyes this year. Woodland flowers more vibrant! Lichens and mosses more showy! Animals more visible and less alarmed than normal! Birds singing louder! It all just seems a little ‘wilder’ but that’s another argument.
Meanwhile, I look forward to when we can welcome back our volunteers and visitors as, ultimately, I think it’s only when people experience the place that it truly reaches its default setting as a living landscape.
All pics (c) Gordon Campbell/SNH