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Urban Rewilding: Glasgow's Pollok Country Park
Located just outside of Glasgow city centre, the region's Highland cattle reserve and cultural hotspot is an example of how to build upon successful rewilding.
Our urban rewilding features have often focused on central parks and green spaces, places in the middle of the urban jungle that remind us of our agrarian past. However, perhaps overlooked has been the suburban park. Pollok Country Park will hopefully begin to fill that gap. Located just a 10 minute train ride from Glasgow Central Station, the park itself is buried within a green and shrubby suburb called Pollokshaw.
Within the park though, the suburbs and city truly do melt away, as you are seemingly transported into the countryside, coming into contact with animals and spaces alien to the busy city. On top of that, the park has become something of a cultural centre, with the Burrell Centre a celebrated art museum located in the middle of the greenery. A concept surely stolen from Devon Sculpture Park located in the heart of LettsSafari’s Exeter Capability Brown Gardens!
The scenic walk along Pollok’s White Cart Water river is a rewilded wonderland, with the pathways overflowing with diverse plant life. Within it is captured a practical selection of functional wild plants, worth considering for their natural benefits. First among them is the presence of foxglove. Its lovely purple flower is able to thrive in even the harshest environments, like in between the bricks of an old train bridge!
Foxglove itself is a magnet for bee, butterfly and bird life, a key pollen producer that will both attract and revive the pollinating insect life in an area. In this way, it can be an essential contributor to arresting declines in pollinators that we see throughout the country.
Next up is the oft-maligned ragwort, admittedly poisonous to certain mammals if eaten in large quantities, but in an area near the river where the animals of Pollok park are separated from them, they can thrive. Ragwort plays an essential role in the life cycle of butterflies, being one of the most attractive plants for caterpillars, behind only lettuce! As a result, it can combine with foxglove and butterfly bushes to create a dynamic butterfly environment for numerous, even quite small spaces.
But if the plantlife of this section of the park is somehow wild and lacking an exotic, traditional and more nuanced nature, the animal life will certainly appeal. Throughout the walk visions of pigeons, seagulls, duck and geese greet you as you wander along the river bank, causing you to consider the importance of this place for the insect life that attracts those particular park dwellers. But these thoughts will only occupy for so long, before you stumble upon the true attraction of this haven.
Pollok’s highland cattle are a central feature of its restoration work. The park has a total ‘fold’ of around 50, although with the young calves now joining it’s group, that number appears to have risen. Highland breeders don't call their herd a herd. It is called a ‘fold’ of Highland cattle because, in the olden days in winter the cattle were brought together at night in open shelters made of stone called folds to protect them from the weather and wolves.
The group of youngsters are penned in, but nevertheless free to wander through any areas within that fenced area that they like.
A scant, cursory look at how the adult herbivores graze would have you believe that they are rotated through several sections of fields. This is a traditional method to rotate a significantly larger flock of animals than is sustainable in a given space. However, a closer look reveals that the gate to each individual section is open, and that the only thing provided to the cattle are large troughs of water, meaning they are getting more than enough to eat from the abundant, natural plants and grass on the ground.
Wandering a little further reveals a free roaming ‘fold’ just across the river, protected from human interaction by the water. Allowed to wander through any of the green spaces, the cattle get access to numerous core rewilding habitats, including wild grasslands, waterways, open scrub and most notably a small woodland, which is thickly packed, but still spaced enough for the large highland beasts to wander through, and just visible from the far side of the river.
Highland cattle can be an effective herbivore for medium or larger scale rewilding projects. An essential mammal, they will maintain grass and scrub levels to the appropriate spaces by eating back new growth. On top of this, their weight and hoofed feet are effective at poaching the ground, which thins the grasses and allows more diverse wildflower and wild plant seeds to take hold, in turn helping to enrich the soil.
Their numbers need to be carefully managed so the land is not over-poached, but the work they do can be very useful for restoring a landscape. LettsSafari has developed quite a scientific approach to optimal herbivore numbers which is important given its specialisation in smaller-scale rewilding.
After thinking you’ve seen all the semi-wilded animals Pollok park has to offer, you stumble across a pair of cheeky rabbits, keen to say goodbye as you exit the park. The duo are incredibly friendly, curious about the human activity wandering past them. Nevertheless, they remain in a fenced off space, with a sign warning wandering park goers to leave them to their work as the small and effective little grazers responsible for maintaining this tiny segment of the park.
And like that, Pollok park reflects the importance of a rewilding project, to provide spaces for plant and animal life to thrive, and most importantly live in balance, maintaining and subsisting itself with minimal human contact and interaction. Through this, humans can enjoy and wander through this natural world, peering into it without disturbing it as we have done for far too long.