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Cows return to Cow Hill

Cow Hill above Fort William could soon see the return of Black Grouse, thanks to the intervention of Lochaber Forest District’s Highland Cattle herd.

Acquired by Forestry Commission Scotland in 2001, the site has benefited from new paths to improve access and is the home of a local allotment project.

The addition of six cattle to the site is expected to have a significant impact on the local biodiversity.

Kenneth Knott, Environment Forester for the Commission’s Lochaber team, said: “Using cattle to carry out work on sites such as Cow Hill, is a great way to improve the landscape and habitats in the area.

“Cow hill was home to a large Black Grouse Lek for many years but after the removal of grazing animals in late 2003, the vegetation became too rank for the Black Grouse to thrive. By bringing the cattle back we hope to reverse that process.

“These animals have got a great temperament, can easily withstand the sort of weather that’ll get thrown at them up on the hill and, most importantly, they can forage on the poorer grasses and heather.

“Their grazing will help to ‘tame’ the site, and as well as providing benefits to other wildlife, this should help return the site to the sort of condition that is more favourable for Black Grouse.”

Making use of cattle to graze the site is also cost effective (because it does away with the need to hire machinery to do the same job) – and has the additional benefit of producing prime beef.

The rare Chequered Skipper butterfly is also present at Cow Hill and this is another – perhaps more important – reason for bringing cattle back onto the site. Chequered Skippers are found only within 25 miles of Fort William and nowhere else in the UK.

Tom Prescott, of the Butterfly Conservation Scotland, said: “Together with FCS we have pioneered specific management techniques – including cattle grazing – at the Butterfly Reserve at Allt Mhuic, Loch Arkaig, to benefit the Chequered Skipper butterfly and other important butterflies, such as Pearl-bordered Fritillary. This approach had great success, so we’re delighted to see this technique being applied across more sites.

“Applying these techniques at Cow Hill should improve the fortunes of Chequered Skipper and make it an easily accessible site for both locals and visitors to Fort William to see this rare and butterfly.”

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