Jacob, Beulah, Shetland, Hebridean and Wiltshire Horn
These hardier breeds are less prone to problems with their feet, and more able tocope with harsher conditions, for we expect them to be out in all weathers.
: Sheep nibble close to the ground producing a lawn effect, particularly usefulon our chalk grassland nature reserves including
in Oxon and
inBucks. This enables smaller flowering plants and the butterflies that feed on them tothrive, such as horseshoe vetch and the chalkhill blue. Wild thyme, milkwort, pyramidalorchid, as well as the aptly named sheep’s fescue, together with countless insects alsobenefit from the attention of our woolly workers.
A combined effort
Quite often the Trust will use livestock incombination. On taller grasses and newlyacquired sites that have suffered fromneglect cattle will be brought in first,followed by sheep for a finer finish,depending on what we want to achieve.Not only ponies are used to graze our fens;since they are small, Dexter cattle will alsobe used.As well our as own livestock, BBOWTworks with local graziers who will use theirlivestock on larger or more difficult-to-reach sites that need larger numbers of animals for prolonged periods. Thishappens at
in Oxford and
in Berkshire, among otherplaces. The timing and intensity of grazing arecrucial and the programme involves ourreserves teams, ecologists and manyvolunteers. To achieve the right balance,the conservation team produces aprogramme of what they want to achievein the year, working from site records thatshow where grazing has taken place andfor how long. Our ecologists will thenassess wildlife surveys that are carried outeach year to find out if we are doing theright thing: if we need to graze more orless, have we got the timing right? If sites
Dexter and British WhitesTheir job
Rather than nipping with their teeth,of grass and this creates a more varied mix of vmammals and birds depend on these insect-ricbirds such as lapwing or snipe also need this tySince cattle are heavier than sheep or ponies, tcreating the right conditions for annual plantsLate summer grazing with cattle has had a posigrassy pastures including the extension at
Leaches Farm on the
Upper Ray Meadows
in Bare overgrazed then species might be lostand habitats damaged. We also need tofactor in seasonal variations. For instance,grazing had to be postponed for a year atthe low-lying Chimney Meadows becauseof the floods in 2007.
If grazing stopped
The landscape may look alright throughyour car window as you drive through thecountryside but the variety of wildlife andthe important mix of habitats have beenlost at a dramatic rate, partly because of the loss of less efficient small-scalefarming. Grazing of flower-rich pasturesand grassland is a traditional method of managing the land in harmony withwildlife. This is why BBOWT’s grazingprogramme and our work with farmers andother landowners across our LivingLandscape project areas is so important.If we stopped grazing on BBOWTnature reserves the effect would be drastic.In the Chilterns within two or three yearsyou would see a marked increase inupright brome and other coarse grasses.Brambles would begin to take over withhawthorn setting seed and growing up.Dogwood and wayfaring tree would alsocrowd out grassland species includingorchids, flowering herbs and Chilterngentian. Gradually we would lose ourimportant mix of habitats and a great dealof the wildlife that depends upon them.
Looking after our livestock is a full-timeoccupation involving many people.Fencing and stock pens have to beerected. Livestock have to be transportedfrom site to site, and when they are notgrazing, they are moved to land known as‘lay back’: Wells Farm in Oxon and WoolleyFirs in Berks. The welfare of the animals isconstantly monitored and health checksundertaken. BBOWT’s Grazing Officer,Louise King, explains, “We do have someyearly treatments that we apply, forinstance the Bluetongue vaccine for thecattle and sheep. Fly treatment is alsoreally important. All stock have their feettrimmed – it’s a time-consuming job butit’s very important that they are able to dotheir job efficiently and that they arecomfortable. The idea is to keep themhealthy so we shouldn’t have to treat agreat deal. Part of this ethos is that we tryto buy in younger animals. If we buy aone-year-old heifer we then have it for thenext eight to nine years. It makes ourmanagement a lot easier.”