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The use of sheep grazing to recreate species rich grassland from abandoned arable land

The use of sheep grazing to recreate species rich grassland from abandoned arable land

Biological Conservation 42(3): 165-184

This paper reports the first two years' results of an investigation into the use of sheep grazing to restore species-rich calcicolous grasslands. Five different sheep-grazing treatments were applied to separate parts of a 10 ha arable field last cultivated in 1981. The field has shallow soils over Jurassic corallian limestone. Three treatments were applied in a replicated experimental design. These were ungrazed controls, a short period of grazing in spring and a similar short period in autumn. The other two treatments, more realistic for conservation management, were impractical for a formal design: one area was grazed continuously from April to November with a short break during the summer; the other was grazed continuously from August to early November. Grazing treatments were started in 1985. By the end of 1986, 43 of the 75 vascular plant species restricted to patches of old calcicolous grassland within 2 km of the site had colonised the field. Most of these species could have spread from adjacent patches of old grassland, but six came from further away. Grazing treatment did not affect the chance of species arriving, but their establishment was better in the grazed areas. Colonisation proceeded downhill, against the prevailing wind. Species richness, diversity, and the abundance of individual plant species in the sward were increased by grazing treatments. In general, the effects of 'realistic' grazing treatments were predictable from the effects of simpler treatments in the formally designed experimental area. By the end of 1986, the area grazed in both spring and autumn had reached a state similar to the ex-arable chalk grasslands described by Cornish (1954). Although the species composition was not yet comparable to a mature calcicolous grassland, many of the component species had already arrived (including one national rarity) and were increasing, in contrast to the control areas.

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Accession: 006788803

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DOI: 10.1016/0006-3207(87)90132-7

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