Highland cattle help survival chances of rare butterfly

Luing cattle are helping Cumbria's endangered high brown fritallary butterflies to prosper.

The Luing Cattle Society will host its annual open day in England for the first ever time this year
Luing Cattle

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 country’s 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 Cumbria’s endangered high brown fritillary butterflies by creating ideal habitat for the rare insects.

The butterfly is giving cause for conservation concern as its population has crashed by more than 90% 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 butterfly’s larva.

Under a Natural England Higher Level Stewardship scheme, the Luing herd is grazing a Site of Special Scientific Interest (SSSIs) at High House Farm, Winster, 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 ever time this year.

The event takes place next month at High House Farm, which overlooks Lake Windermere.

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.

He said: “We have worked hard over the past 10 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.”

Simon Humphries, Natural England’s Area Manager for Cumbria, added: “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 walk to discover the area’s special wildlife, and enjoy plenty of other activities throughout the afternoon.

It will be held on the afternoon of Friday, August 1, and is free to attend. Anyone who would like to go along is invited to register their interest in attending the event as soon as possible by logging on to http://winsterluings.tumblr.com/openday2014

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