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Making grazing work

Making grazing work

Many of our semi-natural habitats (e.g. heathlands, grassland and some wetlands and woodlands) evolved under the influence of grazing livestock. Changes in agricultural economics in the C20th left many marginal lowland areas ungrazed, in contrast to the uplands which have often been overgrazed. These marginal areas that were never agriculturally “improved” are often some of the best areas for wildlife.

Declining biodiversity without grazing

In the lowlands, a lack of grazing has often contributed to declines in species-richness as natural succession has led to the replacement of open habitats with secondary woodland. So conservation management often involves some type of livestock grazing. However, there are often logistical challenges to overcome in reintroducing grazing to such sites.

To graze or not to graze?

The impacts of livestock grazing are varied, and depend on the characteristics of the site in question, the species and habitats present, and the types of livestock and exact grazing regime. Much of Footprint Ecology’s work has been therefore been directed at assessing whether grazing management is appropriate. Where this is the case, we provide information and advice so that it can be carried out to the best effect for the conservation interest of the site while ensuring that the welfare of the grazing animals, the interests of local communities and any legal obligations (e.g. on common land) are met.

Reviews of impacts of grazing on semi-natural habitats

There has been much work carried out on the impacts of livestock, but much of this is within an agricultural context. Our work has therefore included reviews of the research available, and drawn conclusions about the impacts of extensive conservation grazing on semi-natural habitats. This has included:

  • Underhill-Day and Liley - 2006 - Deer and heathlands, a review. A report to English
    A review of the impacts of deer on heathlands
  • Lake - 2016 - Upland Pony Grazing a review
    A review of the role of pony grazing in the uplands

Assessments from primary data

We have also used primary data to assess the impact of grazing on sites, for example:

  • Lake et al. - 2015 - Results of the Hazeley Heath grazing trial.
    An assessment of the five-year Hazeley Heath grazing trial

Site-specific grazing plans

At sites where grazing has been chosen as appropriate for conservation management, we have produced site-specific grazing plans. For example, at Chailey in East Sussex we creating a grazing plan providing information on a suitable grazing regime, together with recommendations for funding and monitoring, advice on the respective responsibilities of the site manager and registered livestock keeper, and information on welfare legislation, livestock risk assessments and animal health plans.

  • McGibbon and Lake - 2011 - Chailey Grazing Plan
    Chailey Grazing Plan

Overcoming logistical challenges

On many sites, grazing presents logistical challenges because of a lack of suitable infrastructure, roads or high public use. At Castlemorton and Hollybed Commons in Worcestershire, we put together an issues and options paper for the Malvern Hills Conservators on how to take forward grazing. In the Suffolk Sandlings, we looked at the existing, piecemeal grazing undertaken by members of a partnership led by the Suffolk Wildlife Trust and Forestry Commission and provided recommendations for a more joined-up scheme:

  • Lake et al. - 2011 - South Sandlings Living Landscape Project Grazing
    Suffolk Sandlings Living Landscape Project: Grazing review

Obtaining consents

On sites which include registered common land, if grazing is chosen as part of a preferred management option, consent is needed from the Planning Inspectorate for fencing to be undertaken. On a number of sites we have undertaken public consultations and prepared applications. In three cases this has led to a public inquiry, which has been decided in favour of fencing for conservation grazing.

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