Traditional, sensitive management
The landscapes of Surrey have been grazed for centuries and this has played a crucial role in shaping some of our most precious habitats. The Trust continues this practice to help preserve them today.
Why do we use conservation grazing?
The continuation or reintroduction of grazing is vital for the survival of habitats such as heathlands and chalk grassland. Many of the flora and fauna that exist within these landscapes now rely on this type of management to survive.
Livestock grazing is also beneficial as it has a less instantaneous impact than burning or cutting. The animals can also access areas which machinery can't. Much of Surrey’s remaining chalk grassland is on steep slopes, so sure footed animals are a more successful management tool than vehicles.
Grazing with cattle
The Trust's black and white Belted Galloway cattle are now a familiar sight across much of Surrey.
Grazing is the most natural method of looking after the landscape and the way that cows feed creates a greater variety in the habitat, allowing species such as nightjars, heath tiger beetles, reptiles and cotton grass to thrive.
Belted Galloways are the ideal breed of cattle to graze our sites. These hardy cattle originate from the lowlands of Scotland and have a proven track record in grazing both heathland and chalk grassland.
Although predominantly grazers, the breed eats a greater degree of scrub and browse than many other cattle types. They don't graze as selectively as sheep and ponies, helping to remove coarse grasses and create a greater variety of structure in habitats. Their bulk also enables them to create areas of bare ground and break up dense vegetation.
The Trust's Belted Galloway herd currently stands at over 400 cattle, which can be seen on a variety of sites including Chobham Common, Wisley Common, Whitmoor Common and Ash Ranges.
Grazing with red deer
Pirbright Ranges is a live firing range owned by the MOD and a wildlife rich heathland habitat .
Access is heavily restricted for safety reasons, which makes it challenging to manage the habitat with conventional techniques. The solution - use red deer, a native species that is ideally suited to the heathland and woodland habitats found on the Ranges.
Although once widespread throughout Surrey, Red Deer in the county are now mostly restricted to deer parks and a few small, wild herds.
The deer are doing a magnificent job in managing the amounts of pine, birch and gorse on the heath as well as creating a diverse structure in the regenerating heather. As a result, nightjar, woodlark and Dartford warbler populations are on the increase.
The Trust maintains the herd at around 160 animals and uses special vehicles and camera traps to monitor their welfare.
Grazing with sheep
We use rare breed Hill Radnor sheep to graze several of our chalk grassland sites to help keep scrub and tree seedlings at bay.
Mechanical mowing results in cuttings that rot down and release nutrients into the soil that then enrich grassland sites. This process encourages more coarse grasses, nettles and brambles to grow. These dominant species can cause special chalk grassland plants - including harebell, vervain and rock rose - to die out.
Grazing with sheep removes these nutrients, which helps to maintain the grassland conditions which are perfect for wildflowers.
Sheep have incredibly mobile mouths! This means they can nibble the grass so it is cropped close to the ground. Sheep will take woody vegetation and access areas where machinery cannot. They are also far less likely to create bare ground due to their limited weight.
The next generation of vets
Surrey Wildlife Trust’s farming activities have created the opportunity for a new partnership with the University of Surrey School of Veterinary Medicine.
The Trust provided sheep and non-breeding cows from our grazing herd for students to work with, along with a small group of horses. They are involved in everything from basic animal handling skills for first years to motion capture technology used by PhD students to investigate equine locomotion. Students also visit the Trust’s home farm at Wisley to improve animal handling and husbandry skills.
Become a member to continue our work
Nature is in trouble. Becoming a member is the best way to support our work protecting the wildlife you love in Surrey.
Equipment to assist with management of our conservation grazing scheme is part funded by the European Agricultural Fund for Rural Development