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With a quarter of a century of experience and an unrivalled all-round knowledge of Britain’s Biodiversity, for all your ecological needs, talk to Dr. Jonty Denton (Chartered Ecologist).

If you are sick of the growing trend for thick glossy reports which say little and miss or ignore the real issues, then you need proper relevant advice built on decades of careful observation and experience of our fauna and flora.

Based in Hampshire, I provide a one-stop shop for all your ecological needs. If you are seeking to develop green or brownfield sites, I give cost effective, pragmatic, ethical advice and devise mitigation strategies which deliver consents, on time without the costs of large consultancies. For protected sites I provide comprehensive survey, monitoring and management services for all terrestrial and freshwater ecosystems, based on over a quarter of a century of nationwide survey and recording.

 

4 thoughts on “Home

  1. Dr Chris Reading

    Dear Dr Denton,
    I have just read your article in British Wildlife (June 2013, 339-346) and would like to congratulate you for bringing the ‘heathland grazing’ issue to light. As you may know, apart from working on common toads for many years I also work on heath land reptiles, particularly the smooth snake, and have become increasingly concerned about the use of cattle to ‘manage’ heath land. You mention, in your article, the lack of any scientific testing of the effects of grazing on wild plants and animals, something that we also highlighted in our report to ARC last year (Jofré& Reading 2012). You might be interested to know that, after some persuasion, I managed to get NE to agree to fencing off part of my reptile study area in Wareham Forest, Dorset (previously exposed to grazing) so that I could start to compare grazed and ungrazed areas that I had many years of background reptile data on. I am now in my 4th year of the experiment and, although results are still coming in, the data are starting to show how grazing effects reptiles and heath land plants. How ever, my study is a very small one and larger replicated studies are urgently needed. In my view, this is unlikely to happen as NE, for whatever reason, seem to be wed to the dogma that grazing is a good and beneficial heath land management tool. Indeed, after the publication of our two reports last year local NE staff became extremely abusive towards me!

    The main problem, in my view, is probably due, as you suggest, to NE being pressurized by government to ‘manage’ heath land to show that it is not ‘waste’ land. Unfortunately, the majority of NE staff appear to fall into the category of ‘Jack of all trades and master of none’ resulting in the use of untargeted grazing. The use of grazing in this way manages for nothing in particular. They support their use of grazing by saying that it increases biodiversity. This may actually be true if they just count and compare the number of species present in grazed and ungrazed heath. What they fail to realise is that although species diversity may increase the resulting suite of species can no longer be called heath land species.

    Anyway, I will now get down from my soapbox and once again congratulate you on a thought provoking article which I hope will result in some constructive debate about the use of ‘conservation grazing’ whilst not attracting the response from NE that I got last year!

    Best wishes

    Chris

    Reply
    1. jonty

      Thanks Chris, still believe your statement that for established reptile sites grazing is not a good idea is sound. Would like to see the report that proves biodiversity increases on grazed heath (for heathland species). One would have thought a couple of PhDs were the minimum needed before wholesale grazing is initiated …hell.. 2 PhDs were done on natterjack toads alone!! Grazing can be beneficial esp. on sub optimal sites, and breaking up over-dominant Molinia is a task cattle can perform, but summer grazing is just not tenable on invertebrate grounds. With the right monitoring from specialists who can get rapid removal of stock at crucial points, a decent mix can be achieved as at Eelmoor Marsh, but grazing birch dominated sites without prior clearance shows an astonishing lack of insight, not to say bloody mindedness.

      Reply
  2. Tim Angell

    Dear Dr Denton

    I am writing this having read your very interesting article on grazing heathland, in the latest edition of British Wildlife magazine.

    The article was of particular interest to me, as a member of Litcham Common Management Committee, which is responsible for looking after a lowland heathland Local Nature Reserve in mid-Norfolk. I must admit that on a first reading of your article my reaction was one of dismay, because we have spent a huge amount of time and effort over the past few years introducing a grazing scheme using Dartmoor ponies, on the basis that this would be by far and away the best management regime for our site! On re-reading your article a couple of times I am now a bit more laid back, but it has certainly caused me to think hard.

    We have grazed half our 24 hectare site since 2008, using four Dartmoor ponies, and before we acquired the stock had received a lot of advice from the Norfolk Wildlife Trust, which uses Dartmoor ponies on Roydon Common (and elsewhere). They certainly told us that the ponies would not eat sufficient quantities of birch and gorse to keep regrowth fully under control, although ours do browse both gorse and birch, as well as brambles and nettles. The main benefit of grazing was that the ground flora was opened up – previously, thick matted purple moor grass had dominated most of the remaining open areas, and our volunteer group found this very hard work to rake up and remove after someone had mowed patches for us.

    Following the commencement of grazing, I did notice that several species of plants flowered a lot closer to the ground than previously, and we have also noticed that many of the mature heather plants seem to have died, or are only just hanging on to life, presumably due to the pressure of grazing. This ties in with your observations. Something else we have noticed this spring is that in one particular area where we always used to see adders, not one has been recorded. This is an area on the edge of some birch scrub, where the tussocky grass has been grazed to a close sward. I wonder whether there is now insufficient cover for the adders in this location, or perhaps not enough cover for their prey species.

    What is a real shame, especially in the light of your article, is that no one has carried out professional survey work at Litcham in order to properly take stock of the impact grazing has had since it was introduced. Experts keep telling us that we are doing the right thing, and we have even won a Norfolk Biodiversity Partnership award, but I realise that this is not the same as proper monitoring.

    What has particularly prompted me to contact you is the fact that last autumn we extended the grazing to cover the whole of the common, funded by a grant from SITA Trust. A significant amount of the grant money has been set aside to pay for proper monitoring work, which is to be carried out by the Norfolk Wildlife Trust, and I imagine they will be starting this very soon indeed. In the light of your article I am wondering whether we have an opportunity to start gathering the type of evidence about grazing that you feel is lacking. My only reservation is due to the fact that we will also be carrying out significant amounts of tree and scrub clearance over the next few years, having just gone into HLS. Therefore, any changes on the previously un-grazed part of the common will not solely be down to the presence of the ponies. However, I do hope that the monitoring work can be done in such a way so as to gain as much information as possible to help other organisations manage their sites – SITA Trust are keen to obtain useful information for the benefit of others, so I am sure that if you have any suggestions about a particular type of monitoring that will be especially useful then that would be very much appreciated.

    A couple of other points that struck me having read your article are as follows:

    1. We were originally going to put Aberdeen Angus X Hereford cattle on the common for a couple of months this summer, but due to concerns about possible overgrazing made a decision to hold fire for the time being, and wait and see how things go for the remainder of this year. In the light of your comments about using cattle, I am pleased we decided not to use them this year! I think that perhaps we will have a better grazing density in future, with our ponies (plus now a hinny as well) having roughly double the amount of land than previously, and the ability for us to put a few cattle on seasonally, if required.

    2. In the last 12 months we have had a new management plan drawn up for us by the Norfolk Wildlife Trust, as well as entering into a new HLS agreement, and both documents seem very specific in terms of the goals we are aiming to achieve for flora. Interestingly, the management plan barely mentions the grazing, and seems to take this as a ‘given’, while the HLS agreement gives more emphasis to the grazing as a management tool. Both documents emphasise the need for very significant mechanical management though. I note that you are based in Hampshire. Do you think it is possible that there are regional differences in the way heathland is managed across the country, possible because different Natural England staff take different approaches? You seem particularly concernd about cattle grazing heaths; is this the ‘animal of choice’ in Hampshire? If so, then perhaps this is another regional variation, because my impression is that the Norfolk Wildlife Trust mainly uses ponies and sheep to graze its heathland sites.

    I appreciate that this is a fairly lengthy communication for you to receive out of the blue, but your article was very thought provoking! Apologies if I have got a bit carried away!

    Just in case you are interested in a bit more background information, the following link should take you to our current management plan:

    http://www.litcham.org/pdfs/NWT%20Litcham%20Common%20Management%20Plan.pdf

    There is more about Litcham Common at http://www.litcham .org and the following link should take you to our grazing scheme page:

    http://www.litcham.org/Litcham/Common_Grazing_Scheme.html

    (Finally, have you come across a magazine called Conservation Land Management? I was asked to write an article about Litcham’s grazing scheme for this recently, and that gives a potted history of what we have done over the past few years.)

    Yours sincerely

    Tim Angell

    Reply
    1. jonty

      Hi Tim, I think many people have also overcome their initial shock and realised this was not remotely anti-grazing, just a call for proper well thought out and monitored use of livestock (and deer). Of course there (were) are regional differences, I had hoped it would be pretty obvious that the subtext of my article was ‘I dont want my local superb rich heathlands to all end up looking like the New forest’ (which I love for different reasons). I am not sure how much ponies were used on East Anglian heaths, I believe sheep were important and cattle. Roydon which you mention was one of the last heathland natterjack sites in East Anglia where it died out in the 1970s. Playing devil’s advocate surely the historic grazing should have been thoroughly reasearched before ponies were imported? I would add that the concept of using just one animal on any given site shows a dreadful lack of imagination especially for Vera model converts, where else is there only one kind of muncher?? Eelmoor marsh in Hants is the best grazed site i have sampled and uses Prezwalskis horses and cattle which are very carefully controlled with input from an excellent botanist and entomologists.
      Cattle seem to be the favoured animal despite lots of evidence sheep were equally important, but dog worrying etc make them a no-no. Historically ponies werent used much in my area, but have been locally as at Bartley heath where the target species to be encouraged was Marsh Gentian which can thrive in pony grazed wet heath in the NF, so a reasonable extrapolation. recently a big Red Deer grazing project has been set up on the MoD gun range at Pirbright, which I really hope works well, seems sensible to use our biggest native herbivore where we can, especially with its proven tree bashing record in the Caledonian forests!

      I am hoping to produce a follow up ‘state of the art’ paper pooling the better stories, and things to avoid, but my main hope is that someone will fund a couple of PhDs looking at impacts on native fauna, vertebrate and invertebrate, it is the least the subject deserves!

      cheers,

      jonty

      Reply

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