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Dublin: 11°C Sunday 25 October 2020
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These hairy cows are a rare butterfly's best friend... here's why:

They’re also going to be helping snails. And all by eating grass.

Pollardstown Fen Yearling Highlands 1

THESE HAIRY COWS are now a rare butterfly’s best friend.

They’re part of a pilot conservation grazing project at Pollardstown Fen near Newbridge in Co Kildare, which was announced by the Minister for Arts, Heritage and the Gaeltacht, Heather Humphreys TD.

The “locally sourced” highland cattle have been introduced to the fen, which is largely State owned, to help conserve rare and protected habitats and species.

Among the species that will benefit from the project are the Marsh Fritilliary Butterfly and Vertigo whorled snail. That’s good news because both of them are in decline due to the destruction of their natural habitats.

Marsh Fritilliary Butterfly

Minister Humphreys said that through their grazing, the highland cattle can prevent certain plants from dominating the area, which is good for under-threat species.

Officials from the National Parks and Wildlife Service will be carefully monitoring the project to see how these species react.

The 240-hectare Pollardstown Fen supports a unique collection of habitats, birds and animals, and also has a visitor facility, 800m boardwalk, so that people can find out more about the species that live there.

Pollardstown Fen Yearling Highlands 2

So, how does it work? Highland cattle are naturally adapted to live on sites like Pollardstown Fen – they thrive on the coarse fibrous vegetation found there, whereas other cattle breeds don’t.

Extensive grazing regimes like this one prevent a small number of tall-growing plants such as reeds and tall grasses from dominating. But they also mean that the tall and short habitat patches (which are favoured by invertebrates) remain.

An initial six hectare area of fen will be used for the pilot project, with a further 18 hectares of State-owned land there identified as suitable for the expansion of the project.

The site is designated a special area of conservation under the EU Habitats and Species Directive.

Read: Trombone-playing farmer serenades his cows with Jingle Bells>

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