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Animals

Country diary: Gently, quietly, these cows are doing vital work in the forest

Abernethy Forest, Strathspey: Introduced to mimic the habits of the extinct aurochs, only the jangle of their bells gives them away

These first few days of the new year have been blustery, and the wind has scoured most of the snow off of the hilltops. During a lull from wind and rain, I take a chance and head out to a remoter path of the Abernethy forest. The track is strewn with small, wind-torn branches and twigs, lichen and pine needles. Clouds scud across the sky and the forest is an ever-changing mosaic of light and shade. A stiffening breeze drowns out any birdsong that may be about, including the flock of finches that fly over what I know will be crossbills.

From somewhere among the trees, I hear an odd sound of metal against metal, a hollow jangling that doubles and trebles, each tone a slightly different key. From within the trees I see a cow, then another, and more still – one is black, another grey, a few are sandy brown, and one’s a darker brown with a white face and rings around its eyes. They turn to look at me with a mixture of vague curiosity and nonchalance, before turning back to continue munching on the heather.

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