What is conservation grazing?
Conservation grazing is the use of livestock such as cattle, sheep, goats, pigs or ponies to maintain and increase the biodiversity of natural or semi natural habitats such as grasslands and heathlands.
In the past, land would have been grazed by wild animals, or through traditional farming and commoning practices. Nowadays, conservation grazing animals are used to replicate this traditional method of land management because mixed farming has become less frequent and much of our land has been broken up (fragmented) by human development. When we use conservation grazing we strive to balance the wildlife aims of each site with the welfare needs of the livestock.
Why do we use livestock to make it better for wildlife?
When livestock are allowed to graze freely they select different plants, and even different parts of the plant, to nibble or browse. Over time, this selective eating by the animals creates a varied structure within the plants and the habitat. It is this variety to the plants and structure that creates lots of different suitable conditions for a wide range of insects, birds, reptiles, mammals and plants to exist.
What are the alternatives?
Without being able to graze mowing or burning the plants would be the only other options. Both of these techniques create very rapid habitat change and leave behind a uniform structure. Mechanical methods can not replicate the unique conditions that grazing animals create because they pick and choose what they eat throughout the year.
How does Hampshire & Isle of Wight Wildlife Trust carry out conservation grazing?
The Hampshire & Isle of Wight Wildlife Trust has two ways of delivering the conservation grazing needed on our nature reserves. We work with local farmers to graze some of our nature reserves. We also have our own livestock which graze on many of our own sites too. We have a large herd of cattle made up of native British White and rare-breed Shetland cattle as well as a flock of Wiltshire Horn and Shetland sheep. Our livestock are a key part of how we manage many of our nature reserves across the two counties to benefit wildlife.
We choose to use native and traditional based breeds because we believe they are best suited to thrive on our nature reserves, where their diet will be very varied, sometimes rough and low in nutrients. These types of breeds are also docile so well suited to be grazing our reserves.
Who looks after the cattle?
We employ specialist staff who ensure our livestock are healthy and happy as well as delivering the conservation grazing that our nature reserves require to keep them special places for wildlife. Our grazing team is highly knowledgeable about the welfare needs of our animals as well as the outcomes we want for nature and wildlife.