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Wildlife News feature: Ground work (Jan 2011)

Wildlife News feature: Ground work (Jan 2011)

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A feature on conservation grazing by Rachel Hudson published in Wildlife News, the membership magazine of the Berks, Bucks and Oxon Wildlife Trust
A feature on conservation grazing by Rachel Hudson published in Wildlife News, the membership magazine of the Berks, Bucks and Oxon Wildlife Trust

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Published by: butterfly track publications on Mar 05, 2013
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03/06/2013

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8Wildlife news
Groundwork 
If you have visited a BBOWT naturereserve and glimpsed a hairy or woolly beast cropping the ground, you havemet an important member of theconservation team – a wildlife grazer.
Wildlife News
explains…
 Jacob sheep at Warburg nature reserve
(Giles Alder)
 
 January 20119
F
or hundreds of years
wildlifeflourished alongside farming and ourlandscape was a rich tapestry of diverse habitats within a workingcountryside. Since the Second World Warthis drastically changed with theintensification of farming. On BBOWTnature reserves we are trying to continueto manage the land in a very traditional,low impact and sustainable way throughgrazing. Each year we undertake a carefullycontrolled grazing programme usingcattle, ponies and sheep to help restoreand maintain the rich variety of wildlife onour nature reserves. On our grasslands,heaths and fens they are doing a great jobof keeping the sites open and in goodcondition for the benefit of a host of species, some of them nationally scarce orlocally rare which would otherwise be lost.
Meet the team…
 The Trust’s grazing animals are all hardy or‘primitive’ breeds from yesteryear, bredfrom the uplands and moorlands of GreatBritain. They are more able to cope withrougher grazing, which is what we needthem to do. They are smaller, more able toeat tougher grasses and they’re not asfussy as commercial breeds that will fattenon lusher grass. Each type of animal has itsown distinct grazing style that enablescertain habitats and wildlife to thrive…
 
10Wildlife news
The sheep
:
 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.
Their job
: Sheep nibble close to the ground producing a lawn effect, particularly usefulon our chalk grassland nature reserves including
Hartslock 
in Oxon and
Dancersend
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
Iffley Meadows
in Oxford and
Moor Copse
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
The cattle
:
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
Mo
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.
Running costs
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.”
Ground work 
Beulah lambs
(BBOWT)
Dexter cows
(Gavin Hageman)
Hebridean sheep
(Peter Roworth)

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