Passengers who happen to be passing by train through Dilbeek in Flemish Brabant in the near future may be surprised to spot some Highland cattle grazing on the embankment.
The cows have been imported by the Flemish agency for nature and woodland ANB to help clear plants from the side of the line.
There are no ordinary cattle, explained Tom Brichau to the VRT.
“These are very beautiful animals with long hair and broad horns. The special thing about these animals is that they are very robust and durable. They were raised in Scotland, in a harsh climate, so they can withstand the cold and our climate perfectly. They are also now being used in our nature reserves to ensure more biodiversity and dynamism.”
The territory to be cleared is a parcel of land along the Brussels-Ghent-Ostend railway line, about 800m long. The land is the property of ANB, but the clearance is a contract from the rail infrastructure authority Infrabel.
Local farmers will also be involved, Brichau said.
“They were looking for a suitable place to graze their herd, and the rugged nature along the railway verge is a perfect fit for this. A great win-win, because Highlanders can cope well on slopes, are not very picky and eat plant species that other cattle ignore, such as nettles and thistles,” he explained.
“While grazing, they create new dynamics in the landscape with a great attraction for rare birds, mammals and insects. Their droppings are also a food source for plants and some animals.”
The cattle will arrive on Monday, to first spend the rest of the month in a field that runs alongside the railway line. At the end of their period of acclimatisation the gate will be opened, and they can graze the embankment at will.
Visitors are welcome to watch from outside the enclosure, but on no account should the animals be approached.
“Of course they remain wild animals that can panic if, for example, children approach them. They are beautiful large grazers that exert a huge attraction, and local residents are certainly welcome to admire them from behind the fence. But always keep your distance and never feed them,” Brichau advised.