Information and Advisory Note Number 8 Back to menu
1.1 Grazing can be important in keeping swards open enough to allow seed germination and establishment, but levels of nutrient inputs should not be increased.
1.2 Most plants and animals benefit from a grazing regime in which there is "a mouthful left when stock are taken out". Take what the field has to offer then move on to another pasture before damaging the sward.
1.3 Maintain or encourage a range of plant structures including short sward, tall herbage, scattered grass tussocks and limited areas of bare ground to support as wide a range of insects and birds as possible.
1.4 Maintain or encourage a wide variety of plants.
1.5 Leave up to 5% total area of field—e.g. field comers, ditch sides and iris beds— ungrazed to provide early spring cover for birds and other wildlife, if necessary by fencing from regularly grazed areas. Electric fencing can provide a cheap way of keeping cattle out and allowing areas to grow rank—it can be easily removed to allow later grazing to prevent scrub developing.
1.6 Take particular care not to overstock in wet periods or in winter which may lead to break-up of the sward and colonisation by aggressive weed species, e.g. creeping thistle and broad-leaved dock.
1.7 Avoid supplementary feeding on unimproved grassland which can lead to poaching and localised enrichment due to dunging—4his can damage the sward, reduce plant diversity and introduce weeds. Troughs can be used for feeding concentrates, provided they are moved on before the area around them becomes damaged.
1.8 Wherever possible avoid grazing stock treated with ivermectin on unimproved grassland. Ivermectin is excreted largely unaltered in dung, so it remains powerfully insecticidal. This reduces the number and variety of insects in dung, thereby slowing down its decomposition which can lead to a reduction in food resources for insectivorous birds such as curlew and chough. Bolus formulations result in ivermectin being excreted in dung over a longer period of time. Where ivermectin is used, pour-on or injected formulations are therefore preferable.
2.1 The following stocking rates are intended as general guidelines based on
average stocking rates over the year as a whole. Proportionately higher stocking
rates may be acceptable for seasonal grazing in line with the recommendations
given on timing. Calcareous grassland—0.5 LSU/ha; neutral grasslands—1 LSU/ha;
acid grasslands—0.4 LSU/ha. (1 LSU = 1 cow or 6 medium sized sheep).
2.2 Shut-up periods are a less attractive alternative if higher stocking rates over the whole year are necessary—these periods can be timed to benefit the most important plant species present.
2.3 An increase in the amount of uneaten grass, the accumulation of litter, an increase in vigorous rank and unpalatable grasses, and
a reduction in low-growing herbs indicates undergrazing (i.e. stocking density too low)
2.4 A reduction in diversity of plants, excessive poaching, weed invasion and the development of bare patches indicates overgrazing (i.e. stocking density too high).
2.5 Low summer stocking density is important to allow plants to flower and set seed.
3.1 The plants and wildlife associated with each area of grassland will have evolved according to past management. Meadows grazed in early spring, shut up for hay from May-July/August and then re-opened for grazing of the aftermath after taking a hay crop, are likely to be dominated by summer flowering species, whereas pasture which has been summer-grazed for many years is likely to be dominated by spring flowering species. Maintenance of long-standing management regimes is therefore usually beneficial, but bear in mind the following points.
4.1 Sheep are more selective feeders than cattle. Unless stocked at high
density, sheep grazing therefore results in short-cropped areas of palatable
vegetation interspersed with ungrazed areas of rank growth. Sheep are also more
likely to eat flowers, which may affect seed production and the abundance of
4.2 Cattle eat a wider range of coarser plants than sheep so that the effect of grazing is more evenly spread, and cattle are better able to break up a mat of accumulated plant litter. Trampling by cattle is more likely to expose bare soil which may damage archaeological features and marshy ground. However, moderate cattle trampling creates sites for seedling establishment which are essential for maintaining and improving botanical diversity.
5.1 Artificial fertiliser, farmyard manure and slurry should not be applied to
areas of unimproved and herb rich grassland used for grazing.
5.2 Lime should only be applied as required and never apply more than 3 tonnes/hectare of calcium oxide (CaO) equivalent.
6.1 Harrowing should only be carried out before ground-nesting birds have established their nests—ground conditions permitting.
Andrews, J. and Rebane, M. (1994). Farming and wildlife—a practical management
Crofts, A. and Jefferson, R.G. (1994). The Lowland Grassland Management Handbook. English Nature/The Wildlife Trusts.
Daniel Gotts, Agricultural Landscape Ecologist
Countryside Management Consultant
Lanark, ML11 8HA
Jane MacKintosh, Grassland Ecologist
Jane MacKintosh, Daniel Gotts
Research and Advisory Services Directorate
Agriculture and Woodland Environments
2 Anderson Place, Edinburgh, EH6 5NP
Tel: 0131-447 4784
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