To Graze Or Not To Graze

To Graze Or Not To Graze.

Monty’s views on the previous Post in relation to Grazing (in connection with the introduction of lynx):

Livestock grazing can for a short period have negative effects; this is inevitable by the very process of grazing. Effects can be: reduced structure of vegetation, eliminating production of flower heads, reduce and perhaps temporarily eliminate invertebrate species and temporarily eliminating suitable vegetation cover for ground-nesting birds.    The impact can however, be ameliorated by limiting the size of the grazed area, number and type of livestock available, length of the grazing period and the timing of that grazing.

To flip the coin over and consider the scenario of little or no grazing, the pendulum unfortunately swings in the opposite direction. Lack of grazing or indeed no grazing, can be just as destructive as over-grazing, with the habitat becoming dominated by for instance, tor grass on chalk grassland and purple moor-grass on acid grassland/lowland heath.  These species in turn will allow bramble or/and bracken, scrub and eventually woodland to take the place of grassland and heathland.

Examples here in East Sussex of both extremes are:

Over-grazed – parts of the Seven Sisters Country Park

Under-grazed, with here the list being appreciably longer. Chalk grassland: parts of the East Sussex chalk escarpment SSSI at Berwick, Alciston and Kingston.  Close to my heart, Blackstone Bottom between Seaford and Alciston.   With respect to lowland heathland: much of the Ashdown Forest SSSI.

Firle Escarpment SSSI near Berwick, March 2015.  Showing dense tor grass cover.
Firle Escarpment SSSI near Berwick, March 2015. Showing dense tor grass cover.

It is a delicate balancing act whereby we humans are altering Nature’s preferred habitat of choice in favour of one created largely by default in the historical pursuit of food production and hunting. As we are now the dominant force for change, we now have to decide which habitat we want in a given area, involving aesthetics, landowners right to use as they wish (within reason) and the vagaries of government and rural economics.

Personally, I feel the ideal lays somewhere in between. I consider some of the most diverse and beautiful areas are where there is a delicately poised balance between the two.  To take chalk grassland as an example; an area where grazing pressure has declined since the days of large-scale close-shepherding a century or more ago and the demise of the huge post-war rabbit population, which has led to an intimate mosaic of seasonally close-cropped grassland with scattered (not too old) scrub with its attendant longer peripheral vegetation.  It can be quite difficult to maintain this balance.

Examples might be: Shooters Bottom near Beachy Head, Deep Dean near Wilmington, Crowlink near Friston and Cranedown Bottom near Wannock. Others might have been except they are too far towards being under-grazed or in the case of the latter, simply now unmanaged, are parts of Seaford Head Nature Reserve and, Blackstone Bottom as allude to above.

Blackstone Bottom September 2006.  Whilst still being managed.
Blackstone Bottom September 2006. Whilst still being managed.
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