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To evaluate the effects of management on plant (including heather) and animal communities in uplands - BD0106

Nationally, between 1947 and 1984, the estimated reduction in heather cover amounts to 20%. Increase in stock numbers maintained on hill land have contributed to this figure, but tree planting, reseeding and cropping and encroachment by bracken and other species are also responsible.

Agricultural over supply, requirement for increased public access, and most importantly damage to the environment by current farming practices require that more sensitive or less intensive systems be used to bring the farm and the environmental needs in balance.

The need for Hill Farmers to manage their holdings with more sympathetic consideration for the environment require the development of systems of hill pasture management which will allow efficient use of indigenous vegetation by grazing animals, but which are compatible with conservation, preserving the structure and dynamics of the plant and invertebrate communities.

BD0106. The effect of stocking rates and vegetation management practices on the regeneration of Calluna and dwarf shrub heath communities.

Previous MAFF-funded research has allowed development of systems of hill pasture management which allow efficient use of indigenous vegetation such as Calluna by grazing animals which are compatible with conservation through maintaining and enhancing the structure and dynamics of the plant and invertebrate communities. This study will aim to identify key factors which determine vegetation changes (orientated towards the regeneration and management of Calluna and other dwarf shrub heath species) under different management regimes in upland environments (2 upland Environmentally Sensitive Areas (ESAs). Experiments will be undertaken within differing defined areas of land, and will seek to validate findings from 2 hectare plots through to farm scale management practices. The efficacy of reductions in sheep stocking levels and other management changes (including burning, cutting and seeding) on biomass production, structure, morphology and utilisation of Calluna and other dwarf shrub heath species and on vegetation composition and community dynamics will be evaluated. Data obtained from experiments will be used to develop appropriate methodologies/protocols applicable to the management of upland grazing within ESAs and more generally in the wider uplands, paying attention to the quality of the animal output under such conditions with emphasis on any welfare and financial aspects which may arise. Data will also contribute to the validation of the MLURI model and other modelling approaches for the management of hill grazing. Results of the study will be controlled and directed through a Steering Group and will be disseminated to the agricultural community through the establishment of discussion groups.
1. To measure the effects, over a ten year period, on the indigenous plants and invertebrates of restricting the access of sheep to hill pasture at strategic periods during the year and manipulating the overall stocking density.

2. To establish the stocking level which will allow heather and other non-graminaceous species to regenerate and/or maintain their status in a hill pasture, and develop guidelines for hill farmers.

3. To compare sheep outputs/inputs and production levels under different stocking densities.

4. To make a comprehensive financial analysis of the agronomic data based on livestock output and values to assess viability.
Time-Scale and Cost
From: 1995

To: 1998

Cost: £757,548
Contractor / Funded Organisations
Fields of Study
Environmental Stewardship