Lowland heathland is a priority habitat for nature conservation. Approximately 70,000 ha of lowland heath remains in the UK, which represents about 16% of its former extent. One of the most important causes of loss of heathland has been a change in the pattern of land use. Specifically, there has been a widespread decline in traditional use of heathlands, which included light grazing, controlled burning and cutting of vegetation for use as fuel and animal fodder. As a result, many heathlands have reverted to scrub or woodland through a process of natural succession. This process now represents one of the main threats to communities of plants and animals associated with heathland habitats.
Current management responses to this problem include the use of fire, cutting of vegetation and reintroduction of grazing. However, scientific evidence relating to the impacts of grazing is limited. Most of the information that is available is based on studies that were insufficiently replicated and/or with insufficient monitoring. Furthermore, few attempts have been made to compare grazing with alternative management approaches, such as cutting or burning.
Although reintroduction of grazing has been widely promoted as a management approach, the need to do so has been challenged in a number of locations in England and Wales, particularly where fencing of heathland on common land is required for control of grazing stock, and also when alternative approaches to management are being implemented. Conservation managers are increasingly being required to defend their use of grazing to members of the public, and to justify the significant costs involved. This highlights the need for a critical review of the evidence, to identify the conditions under which grazing is likely to be most effective as a management approach, and to determine the relative impacts of grazing compared to alternative management interventions.
In order to address this need, a collaborative research project is being undertaken between the School of Conservation Sciences at Bournemouth University, the Centre of Evidence-Based Conservation at the University of Birmingham and the Grazing Animals Project. The project is supported by an EIPG grant from the British Ecological Society.
The aim of this project is to provide the best available evidence regarding the relative impacts of grazing burning and cutting on the conservation value of lowland heath. This is being achieved through two activities: (i) a systematic review of evidence in the scientific literature, and (ii) a questionnaire survey of conservation practitioners.
If you have experience of the use of grazing as a management tool on lowland heathland, we would be very grateful if you would complete and return a questionnaire, which can be downloaded using the links below. It should only take a few minutes to complete. Responses will be treated anonymously. A summary of results will be distributed to all participants of the survey. Please do not hesitate to get in touch if you have any queries about the project.
Questionnaires should be returned as soon as possible, by email to Gillian Myers, or by post to Prof. Adrian Newton, School of Conservation Sciences, Bournemouth University, Talbot Campus, Fern Barrow, Poole, Dorset, BH12 5BB
For more details contact Prof. A. Newton