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Thursday, November 13, 2008

Conservation grazing

Conservation grazing is the use of domestic livestock as a management tool for natural or semi-natural habitats, such as grassland, scrubland, heathland and wood pasture.

The livestock are chosen to graze or browse the vegetation of natural habitats in a similar way to wild animals, thus becoming their functional equivalents. On ancient semi-natural grazed habitats, the animals continue the traditional grazing which created the habitats.

For example, on heathland, cattle grazing maintains a diverse heather structure, creates bare sunny areas for reptiles and invertebrates, and removes scrub and trees, so helping to prevent ecological succession to less valuable habitats such as species-poor secondary woodland. The dung of the animals provides a food source for dung beetles and other invertebrates, which themselves become food for birds, bats, reptiles and other wild animals.

Depending upon the habitats involved and the circumstances, conservation grazing may be done with cattle, ponies, sheep, goats or sometimes wild species such as deer, bison or rabbits. Where domestic animals are used they are usually of traditional types which have not been bred for intensive farming, and so are able to thrive on the often rough vegetation of natural and semi-natural habitats.

Grazing systems relating to the conservation and sustainable management of rangelands is researched by the Society for Range Management.

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