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Rare habitat benefits from grazing
The rare chalk grassland at Surrey Wildlife Trust’s Dawcombe Nature Reserve, near Dorking, is now benefitting from being grazed by cattle, thanks to recent access improvements.
The reserve (for which a permit is required to access) is designated a Site of Special Scientific Interest (SSSI) and European Special Area for Conservation (SAC) because of its chalk grassland, which is a rare habitat in Surrey and now one of the ten priority habitats listed in the Surrey Biodiversity Action Plan. This very diverse habitat supports a wide range of plants and animals; over 1700 different species have been found on the site (including the spotted flycatcher, slow worm and white letter hairstreak butterfly) and 64 of these are priority species in the UK Biodiversity Action Plan.
Previously, SWT voluntary site manager Simon Humphreys and his team of volunteers cut the grassland to keep back invading scrub (coarse grasses, brambles and saplings) by hand, in order to maintain the right conditions for the particular plants and animals that have evolved to live there, but now that access has been improved off Pebble Hill Road, the area is benefitting from natural grazing, as livestock can be safely taken on and off the reserve. Three Belted-Galloway cows will graze the reserve for a few weeks, now that the flowers have bloomed and set seed, and be checked on a daily basis.
Steve Bolton, SWT Ranger, said: “The new access will allow safe entrance and exit from the site for staff, volunteers and livestock. Dawcombe is already a very rich reserve in terms of biodiversity with over 13 species of orchid. Grazing will further enhance the habitat by controlling scrub, reducing dominance of coarse grasses and improving the structural diversity of the grassland which creates better habitat, especially for invertebrates.”