NATURE NOTES - Three sisters, three steers

WELL the herd is on the wetland at Three Sisters and seem to be having a ball!

I really wanted to get three sisters for Three Sisters but we ended up with three steers – steers are sort of ‘nearly’ bulls, just missing a couple of things from their ‘undercarriage’! Anyway we are pleased with the work they are doing keeping the sward nice and short and more importantly whilst carrying out their day-to-day chores they are diversifying the grassland.

The cattle that have made the wetland their home are an old breed that nearly became extinct - English Longhorns. English Longhorns (also known as Longhorns) are not related to the American or Texas Longhorn whose ancestors came from Spain. They do have a long and fascinating history linked to that of the great livestock pioneer of the 1700s, Robert Bakewell of Dishley. The English Longhorn originated from the northern counties of England, it was used as a draught animal and its milk was used for butter and cheese (Stilton mmm). The creamy white horns were treasured by manufacturers of buttons, cups, cutlery and lamps. Fine slivers of clear horn were a poor man’s glass and many a household were grateful for the end product of these elegant long horns. The most usual method of cattle keeping in those early times would have been one or more animals belonging to an individual, kept on common grazing, which were served by a bull owned by the Lord of the Manor. It was all a most haphazard and unsatisfactory method. There was no possibility of an organised breeding programme being carried out. The peasant farmers had to put up with what the Lord provided. As a result, cattle were long in the leg, narrow bodied and coarse, ideally designed for working the fields pulling a plough. 

The breed declined rapidly for nearly 200 years and was becoming rare by the 1950s and 60s. The trend for producing cattle that was increasingly cereal fed, housing cattle, which pushed selection of cattle with shorter horns or polled to reduce injury. Thankfully it was rescued by the Rare Breeds Survival Trust in 1980. With the efforts of RBST and interest in extensively lean grass fed cattle it has made a dramatic comeback.

As well as the ‘steers’ we have also managed thanks to lots of hard work by Lancashire Wildlife Trust staff to get a ‘bespoke’ hide for the wetland – this will go in situ in the next few weeks. The hide will allow fantastic views over the wetland without disturbing the increasing number of bird species that now visit the wetland habitat.

The next phase is the development of a group to help us manage the wetland and Local Nature Reserve – watch this space for dates of open meetings and guided walks for anyone interested. The group will get lots of opportunities to learn about conservation management and we run training sessions for members on bird, butterfly, dragonfly ID and a host of other interesting days – you really can’t afford not to come along on one of the open days!