Culloden battlefield: Highland cows’ great impact on conservation

The Herald – Ema Sabljak

THE site of the last battle on British soil has been brought closer to its historic appearance thanks to grazing animals.

Animals including Highland and Shetland cows, six goats and two Highland ponies have become key members of the National Trust of Scotland team at Culloden battlefield.

But the animals are assisting conservation efforts in more ways than one – by also fostering an interest in the site where Charles Edward Stuart’s Jacobite forces took their last stand against the troops of the UK Government.

Before the pandemic, the site was populated with “very dense vegetation and scrub in various parts” which has now been cleared in the areas hosting the cattle.

As well as providing a boost to conservation, they have also helped “open new conversations” with visitors to the moor.

“Over a season you can see great impacts,” public affairs coordinator for the NTS team Ellen Fogel Walker said.


“By the cattle churning up the ground, they are essentially ploughing for native species of wildflowers and other plants to be blown into the ground.

“We’ve seen a tremendous increase in biodiversity. Especially since we’ve had the cattle we have seen a wider range of flora and fauna.”

This has included the return of endangered European skylarks and other “rare” animals such as pine marten and stoats.

While the cattle tackle the higher vegetation, the goats eat the low-lying shrubs and roots.

The conservation grazing herd are helping maintain the “isolating and eerie feeling” of the site where the battle took place, which is also where approximately 1700 people were buried.

Ms Fogel Walker added: “When you work at a landscape that’s really sensitive, on a battlefield, most of the things that are important are below the ground.

“It’s all the archaeological remains, all human remains, and all the things that if we use heavy machinery to remove a lot of the pine plantations that were planted in the 50s, 60s, and 70s, to return the battlefield to what it looked like historically, we would potentially disturb a lot of that material.”

The cattle and other animals were chosen as they are “heritage breeds” which would not have changed very much in their looks or size since the battle.

Ms Fogel Walker said: “Looking at the battlefield at the time in 1746, a lot of people involved didn’t come from a traditional military background, most of them were farmhands dealing with cattle and these are the breeds that they would have had.”

They therefore help the team guiding tours on the ground explore the “everyday aspect as well as people’s experience of the battle”.

“We found that the cows have increased our ability to connect with visitors who aren’t as interested or maybe thought they weren’t interested in a battlefield,” Ms Fogel Walker added.

“It’s always of interest to people visiting to see Highland cows and the animals typical of here.

“We have people who visit the battlefield on coach tours who might not have picked the specific coach tour just because of Culloden.

“We also have people coming to Culloden because they’re Outlander fans as well, which is fantastic.”

However, the cattle have opened up new areas of conversation with visitors who might not have felt a connection with the site.

“We wouldn’t be able to do anything without the continued support of everyone around the world.”