Woodland grazing toolbox

Woodland grazing toolbox

6.1 Grazing management and foraging behaviour

Grazing management units

A grazing management unit is an area that can be grazed under the same grazing regime. Often it will be possible to manage a wood as one management unit but sometimes this is not possible. 

A brief description of your proposed grazing management units and any other operations necessary for modifying the anticipated foraging pattern of grazing animals to achieve your biodiversity and / or cultural heritage objectives should be given in section 6a of your Woodland Grazing Plan.

Grazing management units, and the location of other features relevant to your grazing proposals should be shown on a grazing management map.

Grazing management units and the distribution of palatable plant species

A wood with a diversity of habitats will not be grazed with uniform intensity. Habitats with a concentration of palatable plant species will be grazed more intensively than others. When determining grazing management units, this will only matter where:

  • the habitats are key habitats, i.e. habitats that have biodiversity/cultural heritage significance AND
  • the differential grazing intensity between habitats is substantial AND
  • the differential grazing intensity is incompatible with the woodland objectives.

For example, within a woodland mosaic, grassland habitats will have a concentration of palatable species and will attract grazing animals like a magnet. Such habitats are likely to be heavily grazed whilst, under the same grazing regime, other habitats, such as woodland with a well-developed canopy and a sparse field layer, will be lightly grazed. However, grassland is well adapted to a high level of grazing and may even need to be grazed heavily to maintain its biodiversity value. In this example, widely differing levels of grazing intensity within the same management unit would be acceptable.

If you are likely to have significantly different levels of grazing intensity within your woodland, you can check in section 4 of the Toolbox to see whether they are compatible with your objectives. If a compromise grazing level for the whole woodland is achievable, there will be no need for the creation of more than one management unit. 

If key habitats require significantly different grazing levels that cannot be accommodated within a single grazing regime, or they need to be grazed at different times of year, it will be necessary to divide your wood into more than one grazing management unit.

Foraging behaviour and foraging patterns

Before deciding on whether, and how, to create different grazing management units, consider how stock are likely to move around the woodland. Apart from the attraction of areas high in palatable species, stock are likely to be influenced in their movements by areas of dense scrub or topographical features such as watercourses, rock outcrops or soft ground. Physical constraints that prevent free stock movement may result in areas being more or less intensively grazed than might be expected.

Local knowledge and/or a good understanding of the site are invaluable for recognising these foraging patterns.

Temporary and permanent stock exclosures 

If a part of your wood would benefit from having no grazing, e.g. to allow young trees of browse-sensitive species to become established, it may be necessary to create fenced exclosures to keep out stock and/or deer.These are likely to be needed only until the trees have become established. More permanent exclosures may be necessary if the wood contains a feature incompatible with stock grazing, such as a drinking water spring. 

Guidance on foraging behaviour and animal movement:

Guidance on the palatability and resilience of different plant species to grazing: