South Downs Local Grazing Scheme
Why not just leave the reserves to their own devises and let nature take its course?
Chalk grassland has evolved as nature's response to hundreds of years of grazing on poor soils.
Historical grazing prevented any one species of plant from growing rapidly and dominating the grassland.
This resulted in an incredible diversity of plants; up to 50 different species per square metre.
Regular grazing is needed to maintain this balance, without it rougher grasses and then scrub will gradually take over pushing out the delicate flowers, insects and birds that depend on them, reducing the grasslands diversity and the public enjoyment of the sites,
What is so special about chalk grassland?
Excellent examples of unimproved chalk grassland are rare and now cover less than 3% of the South Downs. Chalk grassland is the subject of European, national and local Habitat Action Plans and associated species action plans.
Many reserves have been mown in the past, why can't this just continue?
Mowing is only possible in relatively flat areas, it is expensive and the annual costs include not just cutting but also removal and disposal.
Mowing is far from ideal as it reduces the grass height to a uniform level very quickly leaving the insects that like the longer grass no place to go or time to move.
Mowing can not provide the small patchworks of differing vegetation heights needed by insects.
Over time the continual mowing reduces the diversity' of the grassland.
Machinery has been known to damage anthills and ancient monuments whilst mowing for conservation.
Mowing cannot replicate the small patches of bare ground made by animal hooves that are vital for insect
egg laying and germination of plant seeds.
Mowing does not produce dung which many birds and insects rely on to provide a food source to attract their food.
For how long will grazing take place?
Most sites are split up and generally only one compartment is grazed at any one time with grazing taking place for a few weeks or months on each compartment Grazing docs not normally take place during the flowering season in spring and summer when most visitors are also expected.
Can I still walk my dogs when animals are grazing?
Yes, when grazing animals are on the site dogs need to be kept under close control, this is often required anyway under local bylaws. On access land declared under the CROW act dogs have to be on a fixed lead of no more than two metres when in the vicinity- of livestock.
Will Public access be affected?
Access within grazed sites is usually not restricted. Sites remain open and accessible to the public at all times. Any permanent or temporary fencing is carefully sited, with gates at regular intervals, popular dog walking routes are often left untouched, outside the fence
Will grazing animals turn the reserves into muggy quagmires?
The minor disturbance and bare ground caused by animal hooves aids seed germination and creates hot spots beneficial to many insects, especially butterflies. During prolonged wet weather the animals can be moved off if poaching becomes excessive.
On some sites the Council can fine dog walkers for not cleaning up their dog mess, but grazing animals also leave droppings. Why is this acceptable?
Dog mess poses serious health hazards including Toxocara that can cause blindness it is often made up of meat residues that cause nutrient enrichment and this is harmful to chalk grassland and of little benefit to wildlife.
Grazing animal dung is primarily made up of vegetation residue it has a net negative nutrient input (maintaining the low nutrient balance needed on chalk grassland). This type of dung is extremely beneficial to many invertebrates, for example, one cow pat is used by around 1000 different invertebrate species.
Why does a grazier have to be paid to graze some sites and on others they pay to be able to graze?
Some sites can be a benefit to a farmer and may rent their grazing,
- These sites have good productive grass are well fenced, can be grazed at any time of year and have a water supply.
- Stock grazed on such sites can fit into the normal productive flock or heard.
Others sites are too small and complicated to attract a grazier and may pay for a grazing service.
- Where the site is a distance from a grazier's farm the extra livestock checking can add considerable time and cost to the farmer's rounds.
- Where there is no fence or water supply these have to be brought in.
- Where specialist breeds of livestock are required to cope with low nutrient grazing or help tackle scrub there are extra costs involved.
- Stock used on conservation sites are often kept especially for this task and are not expected to fatten for slaughter, to produce lambs or calves, therefore they would be a financial loss to the producer unless a payment is received.