Regulars at Penshaw Monument will have noticed that we have recently introduced several cows to the hill. They will be staying for the next couple of months to help us manage the grassland. The breeds we use to do the grazing are extremely docile so visitors can continue to enjoy the hill and monument without having to worry about them. They can be a little scared of dogs however, so if you do walk your dog at Penshaw, please keep it on a lead until we take the cattle off in March.
So why do we graze the hill? Well, livestock can be fantastic for biodiversity. Through eating the vegetation the cattle are removing nutrients and biomass. This allows less competitive species to become established as dominant plant species are reduced. Trampling also creates areas of bare ground, which may be suitable for plant species to colonise, as well as being beneficial for invertebrates. Many invertebrate species are also dependent on the dung that livestock produce (over 250 species of insects are found in or on cattle dung in the UK!).
All of this means that by summer time Penshaw Hill is awash with wild flowers. There are loads of species to discover growing on the hill, including small scabious, bird’s-foot trefoil and lady’s bedstraw. The most exciting place for aspiring botanists however is in the old quarry. Here the limestone is close to the surface and subsequently this effects the species that can grow there. As a result, a community of plants grow here that are restricted to the limestone areas of Northern Britain and this plant community is characterised by blue-moor grass. Because of this the area is currently in the process of being given special protection as a Site of Special Scientific Interest (SSSI).