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Upland sheep grazing impacts biodiversity and will take decades to recover - University of Liverpool

A new study by the University of Liverpool has found that sheep grazing does negatively affect the diversity of plant species of upland areas of the British countryside, and it could take up to 60 years for it to recover.

The impact of sheep grazing (and indeed other livestock) on the diversity of plant species in the British countryside has been a subject of debate for many years. Often referred to as “white-woolly maggots” or “hoofed locusts”, the renowned ecologist, Frank Fraser Darling, coined the phrase `wet deserts’ to describe species-poor vegetation of the Scottish Highlands and in an article for the Spectator in 2013, George Monbiot described the British uplands as ‘sheep-wrecked’.

An innovative research study, led by Professor Rob Marrs and Professor Richard Chiverrell from the University of Liverpool’s School of Environmental Sciences, sought to confront this thorny issue using as series of long term ecological experiment to analyse the vegetation; each experiment compared two adjacent plots of land at the Moor House National Nature Reserve, one of which had been used for grazing sheep and the other plot which had not.

They tested and compared the leaf properties of seven focal species that occurred only, or were present in much greater abundance, in the plot of land absent of sheep grazing to those of ten common species that were common in both grazed and ungrazed vegetation.

Access the paper: `Release from sheep-grazing appears to put some heart back into upland vegetation: A comparison of nutritional properties of plant species in long-term grazing experiments’ Annals of Applied Biology. DOI: 10.1111/aa b.12591

Posted on: 12 May 2020

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