TIME could be running out for many of Britain’s native cattle breeds – with disastrous consequences for the natural landscape and accelerating the decline in wildlife habitats and songbird numbers. Keeping Britain’s indigenous cattle breeds in the hills and uplands.
By Barry Alson – 2007 February 23rd.
One of our most remarkable vocalists knowing 18 different variations which get quite complicated. Many new invention ‘song books’ creep in and replace old ones sung from the top of the tallest tree.
‘Smart sleek and acrobatic as Blue Tits.’
Male offers choice of several nest-sites in tree-holes and nestboxes.
Taking the female over 20 days to build.
Help Great Tits: Chicks need protein rich mealworms. Wide variety winter nuts seeds- Summer insects spiders- Autumn fruit berries. Quality peanut mixtures sunflower hearts fat balls cut-up kitchen scraps. Brood 1; 2?
Foraging on ground Blue and Great Tits and their chicks –Fall victim to – Predator Cats, Magpies, Hawks, Rats. Etc…
Cont: ‘Barry Alson meets up with a man on a mission.‘
That, at least is how John Pugh sees the not too distant future.
Generations of his family have farmed high up in the Cambrian Mountains above Llanwrthwl, in Mid Wales since the 1600s – but he believes the days of seeing cattle in such an environment are numbered.
“A century ago there were droves of cattle spread across what is an area of more than 60,000 acres. Today, there are fewer than 100 head.” Over the years he has done what he could to secure at least a token presence of several of our ancient breeds.
Currently he has a selection of Luings, Beef Shorthorns, Galloways, Welsh Blacks and some of his own ‘Molly’ mixtures – but he is under no illusion that at the end of his farming days they, too, could no longer be around. To try and make sure they are he is campaigning for a type of hill suckler cow subsidy, for want of a better name.
It is an approach he believes can generate a far better balanced environment and not only applicable in the hills of his own native Wales.
What he says for sure is that without cattle in the hills there will be no managed landscapes, even less wild birds – and precious few farmers.
At fault to some extent for the decline in popularity of native breeds in his view, has been the failure by bureaucracy to appreciate the valuable role such breeds could be playing in safeguarding the environment. For instance, it is very unfair that native breeds which – were not part of the BSE crisis in any way have had to be slaughtered at 30 months old – long before they are ready. They need three years at least to reach maturity – but what a difference there is in the beef.
They are also excellent crossing cattle and suckler cows. When I was a youngster farmers came into this area from the East of England to buy such stock for finishing on their lowland grazing. That is a situation I feel we have got to get back to. As it now stands, there is little point rearing these cattle because of the regulations imposed by the bureaucrats.
‘The vast majority of cattle going into the supermarkets in my view are less than 75 per cent finished. In other words, a quick fix job on concentrates.’ You cannot blame the farmers for doing that because given their production constraints; it would be hard to survive otherwise.
But what the powers that be fail to realise is that because of their hardiness and out wintering abilities even in the harshest of hill farming areas, native cattle can do a sterling job in preserving the natural landscapes and the habitats that go with them.
I travel a great deal around the UK and there are vast areas already turning into scrub and wilderness. Sheep certainly cannot cope with that kind of vegetation.
Cattle are the real tools to create the right habitats – vividly demonstrated by the fact that on areas where I have grazed cattle, no less than 106 different species of wild plants have been identified.
Comments as recent as only last week from such bodies as the RSPB that the schemes that have replaced HLCA payments were not delivering, are laughable. Those of us that have been farming for many years knew that at the time headage payments were withdrawn.
“But the real custodians of the countryside never seem to be listened to.”
Organisations such as Natural England – the newly named English Nature – are now saying that instead of money being used up on glorified office space, it should be spent where it really matters – and that is on the ground.
“Britain’s native breeds can come up with the goods if allowed the opportunity to really show what they are capable of. But if they are not, vast areas of our uplands right across Britain are going to become hillsides covered in bracken, little more than jungles full of vermin.” I am sorry to say that is already happening and I fear we are facing a last chance situation unless the governments in England, Scotland and Wales take a fresh approach. Ministry of Agriculture journals for the 1920s clearly show what is required to produce healthy habitats.
“If it could be done 80 years ago there is no reason why it cannot be done today. There is no need for all these trial periods of one agri-environmental scheme after another which drag on for years when commonsense is staring you in the face.”
The average age of farmers these days is around 60 and a lot of youngsters half our age, fed up of being strangled in red tape, are giving up and heading off for pastures new, some as far away as Australia, New Zealand and Canada.
What a shame they are not being allowed to put the Great back into Great Britain. Immediately – not in two or three years’ time – unless there is a U-turn in Government policies via Natural England, Scottish Heritage and the Countryside Council for Wales with payments for farmers to allow cattle to do the job in the hills they are capable of, then they are just not going to be around any more.
“The talking has to end. It is time for some positive action. I and other people who still have such cattle cannot go on spending money to preserve them for much longer without some return.”
Barry Alson meets – John Pugh.
Subsidise ‘Custodians’ of the Countryside – Before our Wildlife Withers - “Shaming Decline” – 2007…!
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