Grazing livestock has returned to ‘The Bay of Cows’ an inlet on the world-renowned Giant’s Causeway, for the first time in almost half a century.
Dexter cattle have been introduced by the National Trust to help boost populations of wildflowers, insects and even a rare micro-snail at the UNESCO World Heritage Site.
For years, bracken, bramble and coarse grasses have encroached on the steep slopes of Portnaboe, meaning fewer plant species have been able to thrive there.
But now three agile Dexters have been called in to help control the vegetation and maintain the open views across the rugged causeway coastline.
The need to protect wildlife is of ongoing importance at the site, and the conservation charity hopes the initiative will provide a much-needed boost for nature while helping to tell the story of the ancient landscape.
Species set to benefit include the narrow-mouthed whorl snail, a tiny rare mollusc that measures just 2mm in length and can be found nowhere else in Northern Ireland.
Cliff Henry, Area Ranger for the National Trust, said: “We’ve been hoping to get animals back onto some of the ungrazed areas around the Giant’s Causeway for years, so it’s fantastic to see it finally happen.
“Particularly at this time, when our sites are closed to the public, it’s great to know the cattle are there, working away for conservation of the bay.
“Sheep were the last animals to have grazed the area, and that was over 40 years ago. Since then the bay has become choked with bramble, bracken and coarse grass meaning there’s no space for wildflowers to grow. We’ve come back to using cows to manage the land because they have so many benefits for nature.”
“There’s something really special about witnessing this rural scene at such an iconic landmark. The cows will help us to tell the story of the Causeway – not just the incredible geology, but the plants, animals and insects that call it home.”
Maritime slopes are a protected habitat in the UK and can support a wide range of wildlife. Those at the Giant’s Causeway are home to rare plants, butterflies, snails, flies, bees and beetles.
In recent years rangers have discovered several other rare species at the site, including the first records anywhere in Northern Ireland of the UK’s smallest moth and a gall forming fly.
Thousands of bluebells are also believed to be hidden among the tall grass and old bracken which the Trust hopes will emerge as a carpet of blue in late spring, after the cows have munched and trampled the vegetation.
Dexter cows, a traditional Irish breed, have been chosen for their small size, hardiness and agility on the bay’s rocky slopes and will graze happily on the rank vegetation.
The cows were brought in three weeks ago and will be grazed from October to April, in order to protect the narrow-mouthed whorl snail, which hibernates under logs and boulders through winter.
The Giant’s Causeway Visitor Centre is currently closed to restrict the spread of coronavirus. The Trust is urging the public to follow government advice and not to travel.