Report: the impact of moorland grazing and stocking rates

Natural England acknowledges that there remains concern and disagreement about the effects of grazing on the upland landscape and biodiversity, in particular about stocking rates, different livestock types, and the timing and spatial pattern of grazing regimes. The purpose of this report was to comprehensively review the effects of different grazing regimes and stocking rates

Although the report is 122 pages long it says that there is a relative lack of good quality studies on which to base management decisions.

The key research recommendations and gaps include:

  • A better understanding of the grazing and ranging behaviour of the common hill sheep breeds in England is needed, as the few studies that exist are based on Scottish blackface sheep. Possible changes arising from changes in the stratified sheep industry, including the trend for cross-breeds in particular, need to be evaluated in terms of what they may mean for grazing levels and patterns on moorland.
  • There is a need to develop a more meaningful Livestock Unit (LU) system which takes into account not only the animals‟ nutritional requirements but the grazing choices that are made by different species, breed types and classes of stock when fulfilling these.
  • There is a need to explore how information on the spatial distribution of vegetation types in a grazing unit should be used more effectively in setting stocking levels. This could include the examination of the potential role of hefting, as hefting will affect how animals will interact with the pattern of vegetation and its utilisation.
  • Further research is required into techniques that can be used to influence the spatial distribution and feeding choices of sheep and cattle, including the provision of water and the use of supplementary feeding. Cutting or burning areas of less preferred vegetation and standing dead material can improve the attractiveness of underutilised areas, and the role of these techniques could be explored further.
  • There is a need to develop a common understanding of what constitutes true undergrazing for different outcomes, and how this might look in different habitats.
  • The interaction of grazing and heather beetle damage should be evaluated.
  • There is a need for better evidence on grazing impacts and achievements – including assessments of the distribution of grazing pressure as well as the response of habitats or species. Methods need to be improved to ensure that ecologically meaningful measurements are made, but that these can be done quickly and efficiently.
  • More evidence is needed on carbon budgets in different grazing/soil combinations. As management moves towards considering ecological services in the round, then understanding the trade-offs between different services, such as carbon sequestration and livestock production will be necessary.
  • More evidence is needed on the impact of grazing on water quality in different soils.

To read the full report go to: