Woodland grazing toolbox

Woodland grazing toolbox

6.2 Determining your grazing regime

This section of the Toolbox contains the information needed to work out a grazing regime that is likely to achieve your woodland biodiversity and /or cultural heritage objectives. If you have more than one grazing management unit, you will need to decide on a grazing regime for each one. 

A grazing regime is made up of three main components, each of which has to be suited to the site and the objectives:

  1. Grazing season: the times of year that grazing takes place.
  2. Species and breed of grazing animal: different species and breeds of animal graze in different ways and have different impacts on habitats.
  3. Stocking density and duration of grazing: the number of animals and the length of time that they are on the ground. This will largely depend on the amount and quality of forage available from the different plant communities and the level of grazing pressure that is needed.

In addition, it may be helpful to consider:

  • Traditional grazing regimes: past management and local farming systems are often compatible with conservation objectives. Set or rotational stocking systems may have been used in the past.
  • Income generation: in many cases it will be possible to generate income from stock production. Since conservation grazing is a low input /low output agricultural system, producers may want to attain as high a premium as possible on their products. To this end, an organic farming system and the use of rare, or local, breeds may often be the best choice.
  • Variations in weather: wet years lead to increased grass productivity and dry years can lead to grass ‘burning off’. Fluctuations in weather from year to year may also affect the length of time stock can be kept on the ground without causing unacceptable disturbance since the ground will be more ‘churned up’ by stock in wet conditions than in dry. The grazing regime may need to be flexible enough to allow annual variations in response to weather conditions.
  • Noxious, weedy and invasive plant species and herbivore selectivity: there may be problems associated with grazing animals avoiding weedy, invasive or noxious plant species or with them eating noxious species.

Additional guidance on Conservation Grazing of Semi-natural Habitats (link to a PDF on an external site) has been produced as a technical note by the Scottish Rural University College.