I’ve attended a webinar hosted by the National Library of Scotland which featured Patrick Laurie talking about and reading from his recently published book ‘Native – life in a vanishing landscape’
His presentation oozed of his pride about being born and bred in Galloway, portrayed a deep and personal sense of place and of course featured his beloved Riggit Galloway cattle. He discussed how the traditional ways of cattle hill-farming were disappearing under a further onslaught of commercial forestry. He described how he was just trying to live the life that was handed down to by his parents, and their parent before and their parent before that. He made the case for using hill cattle as a conservation grazer and how they could work hand in hand to conserve the curlew and other species.
This quote is one of my favourite pieces of his writing and it was brilliant to hear him read it out. I’ve even used this quote in my PhD!
Sheep and cows used to work beautifully together. The two overlap in a steady rhythm of mutual back-scratching, and one supports the other. Cattle like long grass and sheep prefer it short. Cows do the heavy lifting and sheep follow up with the details. If you can strike the balance, the two will tackle the grass as it comes and keep the land in a choppy, buzzing balance.
Remove the cows, and the sheep are restricted. They don’t have the clout to punch into thick grass, and they are shut out of the bracken. They focus their attention on the easy and accessible and hammer these into a billiard table. There is nothing left for a curlew’s eggs. Other places are harder to reach, and they grow rank and tall without any grazing. The grass stands above your head, and then it’s too rank for a curlew to land. The place falls oddly still.
.I really recommend you read this book if you are interested in our uplands and how farming with cattle can make conservation happen.