Woodland grazing toolbox

Woodland grazing toolbox

7. Monitoring change in woodland habitat condition

For controlled woodland grazing, you will have calculated a grazing regime that you think is most likely to achieve your biodiversity and/or cultural heritage objectives. However the impact of grazing on your woodland habitats will not be easy to predict and no two woods are exactly the same. So, in order to determine whether you are moving towards your targets, it is essential that you monitor changes in woodland condition and adapt your management as necessary.

In section 7 of your woodland grazing plan:

  • Describe how you propose monitoring your site. You will need to track changes to your key habitats, as defined in section 4b of your management plan. You may also wish to monitor the condition of other features such as scarce species or archaeology.
  • Specify the frequency and timing of monitoring for the five years of your woodland grazing plan.
  • Specify who will undertake the monitoring. This could be the grazier, woodland owner/ manager or woodland surveyor but it is important to be clear from the outset who will take responsibility for monitoring. A specialist surveyor may be needed to monitor scarce species. 

How to monitor change

One way of monitoring change is by assessing woodland structure class and current herbivore impacts for each main habitat, as you did in section 4 of your grazing management plan, using the Guide to the Woodland Herbivore Impact Assessment Method (MS Word 228KB). Photos that illustrate the Woodland Structure Classes in Table 1 and the Current Herbivore Impact levels in Table 2 of the Guide can be found here.

It may not be necessary to survey all the habitats in section 4, only the habitats that require regular monitoring. For every monitoring session you will need a field sheet (page 9 of the Guide) for each of these key habitats.

You do not need to use the same stops as you used the first time however you may choose to do so.

When you have carried out the repeat assessment the results can be compared with previous results both at the overall level as well as for each indicator separately. If you have used the same stops you can also compare results for each individual stop.  

If this is your first monitoring survey, compare the result with the original impact assessment and with the target structure class. For subsequent surveys, compare the result with the previous assessment, with the assessment at the same time last year and with the target structure class. Changes to structure class are likely to be long-term processes, though for some classes, e.g. open ground or woodland regeneration, change should be apparent within the five-year lifetime of the plan.

Monitoring frequency 

To enable you to adapt your regime to the changes that are occurring, monitoring needs to be frequent. The frequency will depend on the nature of your grazing regime, your objectives and, if you are entered into a grant scheme, the requirements of the scheme. It is likely that you will need to monitor your woodland more than once a year; for example for seasonal grazing you may want to monitor once at the start of the grazing, once at the end of the grazing and possibly in between as well.

Seasonal variation 

There are likely to be seasonal variations in the level of most of the current browsing indicators. For this reason it is very useful to compare your assessment with that carried out at the same time in previous years as well as with the most recent assessment.

Fixed point photography

To pick up subtle changes in woodland structure over a number of years, consider fixed point photography.