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Responses of calcareous grassland plant communities to changed seasonal grazing management: results of a 31 year study.

Ridding, L.E., Bullock, J.M., Walker, K. J., Bealey, C. and Pywell, R.F., 2021. Responses of calcareous grassland plant communities to changed seasonal grazing management: results of a 31 year study. Journal for Nature Conservation, 62 (August), 126026.

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DOI: 10.1016/j.jnc.2021.126026

Abstract

Calcareous grasslands are of high conservation importance and have been maintained by livestock grazing over many centuries. Following the reduction in traditional livestock grazing (cattle and sheep) of semi-natural grassland during the twentieth century, conservation-based grazing management was introduced in order to conserve remaining grasslands. In UK semi-natural grasslands, grazing pressure has fluctuated over time due to changes in conservation funding and stock availability, whilst the time of year at which stock graze has also shifted. There is little quantitative data available to demonstrate the details of changed grazing patterns, or their long-term effects on the vegetation, thus the full impacts of these changes are not well understood. This study examines the response of a diverse calcareous grassland community to changes in grazing management between 1979 and 2010 at Martin Down National Nature Reserve, southern England, using historical vegetation surveys and grazing records collected and recorded by reserve staff. Historical data showed a shift in grazing regime, whereby grazing occurred across all seasons in the early period, but switched to predominately the autumn and winter in the present century. Despite this significant shift in management over time, the vegetation community did not change dramatically over this period, although small increases in species richness and diversity were detected. The richness of calcareous grassland indicator species remained largely consistent, suggesting the conservation value of the grassland persisted, and the community types also stayed fairly constant over the 31 years. Furthermore, weak evidence was found for impacts of grazing in particular seasons on vegetation community measures; species richness, species diversity, indicator richness, indicator abundance, grass abundance and forb abundance. This study suggests that these vegetation communities are robust to changes in grazing seasonality providing that sufficient grazing pressure is provided within the year. The compartmentalised grazing employed at Martin Down may be a useful method for ensuring this outcome. However more research is required, preferably using controlled field experiments before more reliable recommendations can be prescribed.

Item Type:Article
ISSN:1617-1381
Uncontrolled Keywords:Conservation; Grazing management; Long-termSeasonal grazing; Species richness; Vegetation change
Group:Faculty of Science & Technology
ID Code:35843
Deposited By: Mrs Jean Harris
Deposited On:27 Jul 2021 14:16
Last Modified:15 Aug 2021 08:30

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