It’s amazing how what a difference a few grazing animals can make over a relatively short length of time. It was only a couple of months ago that I blogged about the reinstatement of livestock onto the Arcot Hall Grasslands after almost a decade of neglect, and already we are starting to see the benefits that grazing can bring. Of course it has not all been plain sailing both with the high rainfall (which resulted in waterlogging of the grasslands), and of course our escaping ponies causing us problems, but now the rewards from all the hard work are starting to be seen.
Both the Highland Cattle and Exmoor ponies have been nibbling away at almost everything they can find and they are already starting to have a slow impact on the tall rank grasslands dominated by tufted hair grass. This grass can dominate in poorly managed pastures, and this is clearly that case on the more northern grassland areas at Arcot. The coarse nature of the leaves and their high silica content make this grass very unpalatable to grazing livestock and notoriously difficult to keep in check. Cattle grazing is one of the key management tools at our disposal and we will be manipulating the grazing levels in an attempt to make the greatest impact.
The more species-rich grasslands at the southern end of Arcot have also suffered from years of lack of management, and although there are many important plants still remaining in these grasslands, they are being smothered by more vigorous growing species and also scrub. These areas are now also benefiting from grazing – the shorter turf helping give plants such as yellow rattle and common spotted orchids a chance to flower. Small gaps made in the sward by the trampling of the livestock will now hopefully provide new niches for the seed from these flowers to germinate and establish.
Getting the grazing regime right will be challenging as we try and reduce the dominance of less desirable species while allowing the more ‘valuable’ plants to flower and set seed. We do not plan to develop a fixed grazing pattern but rather adjust stocking according to the seasons, and realise that things might not always go to plan. But what we do know is that we have the right animals for the job and they are already proving their worth!
Paul Evans, Conservation Officer – North East England