Monthly Archives: September 2013


Dear Jonty,

 Since I wrote my letter on heathland grazing in response to your article in British Wildlife I have found the Minutes and Evidence relative to the rights of Common in respect of Tadley Common and West Heath Common in north Hampshire as at 15th December 1847. The evidence was given by men who had known these Commons since 1775. The rights claimed were:

 a) Appendant – which was the right of common of pasture (i.e. feeding), the exercising of which did not need to be proved.

 b) Appurtenant – which was the right to lop trees, and cut gorse, furze, underwood (NB. this was not the same as coppice), furze (gorse) heather, bushes, and fern for fuel to be burnt in a commoner’s dwelling. It also extended to common of turbary, which was the right to cut turf or peat for fuel. Turf in this context was the digging out of growing heather to ‘a slight depth’ so that earth and roots together ‘could be dried out to burn slowly with a smouldering flame’. The right was attached to each dwelling.

The pasturing of sheep and turf cutting were confined to West Heath Common, and horses and larger cattle were turned out on Tadley Common. Furze was cut on both Commons. There is no mention of pigs.

 In 1838 the parish of Tadley had a total area of 2038 acres, of which 800 acres were Commonland, most of which was heathland. The largest farm was Tadley Place, with 172 acres of arable, 29 acres of pasture, and 7 acres of meadow. The tenant, John Penford, was described as a farmer of ‘small means’ who could not advantageously exercise his right of grazing on either Common. In his words ‘I have cut turf and furze on the Common since 1843 but I have not stocked it. I have had plenty of pasture for my cattle and sheep or I should have stocked the Common with them. I had a right but I did not exercise it so it would have been no benefit to me.’ In other words, he did not need to use the Common as supplementary pasture because the 36 acres of pasture and meadow that were part of the farm were sufficient for the few livestock that he could afford to keep.

 In addition to the 212 acres of grass and arable, Tadley Place also had 147 acres of woodland but this was held ‘in hand’ by Oakley Hall Estate, the owner of Tadley Place. The Estate records show that this woodland was a commercial enterprise; hence the reliance that the tenant, John Penford, placed on the Commons as his major source of fuel. This reliance on the Common as a major source of fuel but as a minor source of grazing is also apparent in the evidence of other witnesses. Turf from the Commons was the major source of fuel for the tenant farmers, smallholders, labourers, and the poor. For the latter in the neighbouring parish of Pamber, the Overseers accounts for 1795-1814 registered regular payments for cutting and carting turf. In 1795, for example, the Overseers paid 12 shillings for the cutting of 4000 turves, and 15s 9d for their carting.

 Photograph 1 shows the present state of the much-reduced acreage of Tadley Common (100 acres). The furze and birch, which covers most of the Common, also conceals the few cattle that are put there for the ostensible purpose of preventing its growth. This is a graphic example of what the much larger acreage would have looked like if all of the furze and turf cutting had completely ceased in 1848, as it should have done, ‘in Pursuance of the Act of the 8th and 9th Victoria c. 118 [whereby] all Rights of Common in and over the said [Tadley] Commons…were wholly extinguished…namely the Right of Turbary and Cutting Furze…and all other Commonable Rights, whatsoever, from 11th Day of October.


The fact that this did not happen was due to a combination of ecological, social, and economic factors that affected Tadley. The coarse sands and gravels of north Hampshire are among the least fertile soils in England, and within this region those of the Tadley district are the worst; too poor for cultivation and even for the planting of larch, which was the universal crop of other areas of enclosed heathland along the



Photograph 1. Cattle-grazed Tadley Common September 2013.

 north Hampshire and south Berkshire border. The extensive heathland of Tadley, with its impoverished soils and unregulated commons was, however, suitable for human settlement. From the end of the eighteenth century it attracted many itinerant families who were looking for a place to settle. In 1801 the population was 497, and by 1911 it had risen to 1229. These families were seasonal migrants who used Tadley as their home-base whilst they were working the various summer harvests around southern and south-eastern England. In the winter the men found work in the north Hampshire and south Berkshire woodlands, mainly cutting and working-up the hazel underwood of the so-called coppice-with-standards woodlands that had been extensively planted in the early eighteenth century. Most of them were self-employed, earning their living by making such products as barrel hoops, wooden handles, and crate rods. Others earned their living from making and selling heath and birch brooms throughout the summer months, the materials for which were cut on the heathland. The latter in particular were sold to the iron and steel works in the Midlands where their principal use was for removing the scale that immediately formed on the molten metal as it made contact with the cold air.

 It was, therefore, the increasing use of birch and heather for broom-making, when added to the increased use of gorse and turf for fuel by the settlers, that kept the heathlands shorn of vegetation from the middle of the nineteenth century to the middle of the twentieth century, and not the grazing of domestic livestock, which was minimal. The 1950s was the decade in which the heathland economy that had


Photograph 2. Cattle-grazed Silchester Common in September 2013.

 existed, at varying levels of intensity, for at least a thousand years, came to an abrupt end. It was also the decade in which the Atomic Weapons Research Establishment (AWRE) was built on the former Aldermaston Aerodrome. Tadley Common had been requisitioned in 1939 to provide the accommodation for the ancillary support services for the wartime airfield, and it was never returned to the local community. Instead it was developed as housing accommodation for the scientists, technicians and engineers who were drafted into AWRE. The indigenous population of broom-makers and other wood-workers found alternative employment in AWRE as labourers and drivers and, more importantly, were given the security of regular work, paid holidays, and pensions.

 The cost to the public of the ill-conceived and hastily drafted cattle grazing policy for SSSIs that was introduced by the government of the day, and implemented by English Nature, has been, and continues to be, astronomical. As with Tadley Common, the furze and birch that covers most of Silchester Common (Photograph 2) conceals the few cattle that are put there for the ostensible purpose of preventing its growth. In 1991, the initial cost of fencing Silchester Common (165 acres) was estimated at £27,739. This figure included an estimated £5000 for the initial clearance of the trees and gorse. Thereafter the estimated annual maintenance cost was £20,600, of which £15,000 was the warden’s salary. In total, therefore, over £600,000 has been wasted on Silchester Common over a period of 22 years, because in 2013 it is in the same vegetative state as it was in 1991, before the fence was erected and the cattle were introduced.

 This expensive fiasco was not done in the interests of wildlife conservation. There was no logic employed and no research was undertaken. It was entirely a knee-jerk reaction on the part of English Nature to satisfy the demand of its political masters.


 Gloucester Record Office: D2240/Box 34 Papers relating to the rights of Common attached to Tadley Place 1847.

 Hampshire Record Office: 15M70/PO1 Pamber Overseers of the Poor; 10M57/Z73/1 & 2.

 Robert Hunter: Open Spaces, Foot-Paths, and Rights of Way, London 1896.

 E. J. T. Collins: Farming and Forestry in Central Southern England in the Nineteenth and early Twentieth Centuries, in H. Brandl (ed.) Geschichte der Kleinprivatuald-wirtschaft (Freiburg University, Germany 1993) pps 290-306.

 Hampshire County Council: Report on Silchester Common as part of the North East Hampshire Heathlands Project, 1991.

 Silchester Parish Council: Grazing on Silchester Common, Working Party Report, 1991. 

 Alan Albery




Aeonium arboreum Tree Aeonium Garrison Wall
Aeonium cuneatum Aeonium Tresco
Agapanthus praecox African Lily Appletree banks
Aichryson laxum Canary island Stonecrop Tresco
Amaryllis belladonna Jersey Lily Tresco
Anemonia viridis Snakelocks Anemone St.Mary’s
Anisantha rigida Ripgut Brome St.Martins
Aptenia cordifolia Heart-leaf Iceplant St.Mary’s
Arcitalitrus dorrieni New Zealand Land hopper Tresco
Armadillidium album a pill woodlouse Tresco
Asparagonopsis armata  a red seaweed St.Martins
Asterina gibbosa cushion star St.Mary’s
Asteropectus irregularis a starfish St.Mary’s
Atherina presbyter Sand-Smelt The Road
Martasterias glacialis a starfish St.Mary’s
Autotylus pictus marine worm  St.Mary’s
Brachypodium sylvaticum False-brome Tresco
Briza minor Lesser Quaking-grass St.Martins
Carpobrotus acinaciformis Sally-my-handsome St.Martins
Ceratochloa cathartica Rescue Brome St.Martins
Chrysocoma coma-aurea Shrub Goldilocks St.Mary’s
Clathrus ruber Birdcage fungus Garrison Wall
Clubiona genevensis a spider Tresco
Convolvulus sabatias Ground Blue convolvulus St.Mary’s
Coprosma repens Tree Bedstraw Tresco
Corallina officinalis Coral weed St.Martins
Correa backhouseana Tasmanian-fuchsia Tresco
Coryphoblennius galerita Montagu’s Blenny St.Mary’s
Crocidura suaveolens Lesser White-toothed Shrew St.Mary’s
Cymbalaria muralis Ivy Leaved toadflax (White form) St.Martins
Cyrtomium falcatum House Holly-fern St.Mary’s
Cytoseira tamariscifolia a sea weed St.Mary’s
Delairea odorata German-ivy New Grimsby
Dictyopteris membranacea a marine algae St.Martins
Disphyma crassifolium Purple Dewplant New Grimsby
Drosanthemum floribundum Pale Dewplant Tresco
Echinochloa crus-galli Cockspur St.Martins
Echium pininana Giant Viper’s-bugloss Tresco
Erepsia heteropetala Lesser Sea-fig St.Mary’s
Eucalyptus globulus Southern Blue-gum Tresco
Eucalyptus pulchella White Peppermint-gum Tresco
Fascicularia pitcairniifolia Rhodostachys Tresco
Francoa ramosa Bridal Wreath Tresco
Fumaria occidentalis Western Ramping-fumitory St.Mary’s
Geranium maderense Giant Herb-Robert Tresco
Gobiusculus flavescens Two-spot Goby St.Mary’s
Halopteris filicina a marine algae St.Mary’s
Helichrysum petiolare Silver-bush Everlastingflower St.Mary’s
Homeria collina Cape-tulip Tresco
Hydrobates pelagicus European Storm-petrel Off Lands End
Ixia campanulata Red Corn-lily Tresco
Ixia paniculata Tubular Corn-lily Tresco
Lampranthus falciformis Sickle-leaved Dewplant Tresco
Leptospermum lanigerum Woolly Tea-tree Tresco
Leptospermum scoparium Broom Tea-tree Tresco
Liocarcinus puber a crab St.Martins
Littorina saxatilis Rough winkle St.Martins
Luma apiculata Chilean Myrtle Tresco
Malva pseudolavatera Smaller Tree-mallow St.Mary’s
Mola mola Sunfish Off Lands End
Muehlenbeckia complexa Wireplant St.Mary’s
Nerophis lumbriciformis Worm Pipefish St.Mary’s
Ochagavia carnea Tresco Rhodostachys Appletree banks
Olearia avicenniifolia Mangrove-leaved Daisy-bush Tresco
Olearia macrodonta New Zealand Holly Garrison Wall
Olearia paniculata Akiraho Tresco
Olearia x hastii  Daisy Bush Tresco
Olearia traversii Ake-ake Tresco
Oscularia deltoides Deltoid-leaved Dewplant Tresco
Oxalis megalorrhiza Fleshy Yellow-sorrel Tresco
Oxalis pes-caprae Bermuda-buttercup St.Martins
Oxalis tetraphylla Four-leaved Pink-sorrel Tresco
Pelargonium tomentosum Peppermint-scented Geranium Tresco
Pericallis hybrida Cineraria Tresco
Phormium cookianum Lesser New Zealand Flax St.Mary’s
Phormium tenax New Zealand Flax Appletree banks
Pittosporum crassifolium Karo St.Martins
Pittosporum tenuifolium Kohuhu Tresco
Polycarpon tetraphyllum Four-leaved Allseed St.Mary’s
Polysiphonia lanosa a red alga St.Martins
Pomatocerus triqueter tube worm St.Mary’s
Pomatoschistus minutus Sand goby St.Martins
Porcellana platycheles Broard-clawed Porcelain Crab St.Mary’s
Procerodes littoralis marine flatworm St.Mary’s
Puffinus griseus Sooty Shearwater Off Lands End
Roccella fuciformis a lichen Outer Head
Roccella phycopsis a lichen Outer Head
Ruschia caroli Shrubby Dewplant New Grimsby
Saccorhiza polyschides Batters Alga St.Martins
Sargassum muticum Wireweed/Japweed St.Martins
Selaginella kraussiana Krauss’s Clubmoss Tresco
Senecio glastifolius Woad-leaved Ragwort Tresco
Solanum laciniatum Kangaroo-apple Tresco
Sparaxis grandiflora Plain Harlequinflower Tresco
Spirorbis borealis Tube Worm St.Mary’s
Symphodus melops Corkwing Wrasse St.Mary’s
Tectura virginea a mollusc St.Martins
Trioza vitreoradiata a psyllid Tresco
Veronica silicifolia Koromiko Tresco
Watsonia borbonica Bugle-lily Appletree banks
Woodwardia radicans Chain Fern Tresco
Zeugopterus punctatus Topknot St.Mary’s-Tresco


Dear Sir,

Jonty Denton intuitively answered the question he asked in the title of his article Conservation grazing of heathland – where is the logic? (BW 24: 339-346) when he wrote ‘Indeed, it could be argued that grazing is simply being used as a quick fix to get politicians off Natural England’s back’.

On 4 May 2004 my MP tabled a written question (Question No: 201) in the House of Commons on my behalf asking the Secretary of State for the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (DEFRA) what guidelines she issued to English Nature (EN) prior to its recent assessment of Sites of Special Scientific Interest (SSSI). The answer I received was that EN assesses the condition of SSSIs according to common standards agreed for the UK through the Joint Nature Conservation Committee (JNCC) and not on the basis of Government guidelines.

As is so often the case with Government answers this was palpable nonsense. In his letter dated 14 May 2004, EN’s Regional Director told me that in August 2000 ‘the internal methodology of site unit condition assessment was being revised’. There was no scientific research underpinning this revision. EN was simply responding, in a panic, to the Government signing-up to the EU’s Public Service Agreement, and that part of it which required 95% of all nationally important SSSIs to be brought into favourable or recovering condition by 2010. The only tangible evidence that EN could produce to convince the Government, MPs, and local councillors that this was being achieved was to fence off these SSSIs and graze them with ponies and/or cattle and to declare the resulting enclosures as being in a ‘favourable condition’. It was not done for the benefit of wildlife but as an attempt to try and meet impossible Government demands. In the process, not only has it done severe damage to serious wildlife conservation, it has also wasted huge sums of public money.

Two examples from Hampshire alone serve to illustrate the latter point. In 1998 EN rushed through a public enquiry, with little or no public consultation, which allowed the fencing off of Odiham Common (280 acres) as a five-year experiment. In 2003, as a result of another public enquiry, the fence had to be removed. One of the reasons given by the Inspector in making her decision was that EN had made no formal survey of the site and had relied instead on data that was decades old. The cost to the public of this fiasco was in excess of £250,000. In 2006, in a volte-face (perhaps reverse-ferret is more appropriate in this context), EN took one of its landlords to court because he had taken it upon himself to fence-off a very sensitive SSSI on his land in the New Forest to protect it from damage by the public. EN lost, at a cost to the public of £50,000.

To return to my own experience, in 1997 I received a letter from EN’s Hampshire and Isle of Wight Team Manager in which he wrote of ‘the excellence with which your land has been managed for nature conservation, and how proud we would be to achieve a comparable quality on one of the National Nature Reserves which we manage’. In 2004, even though EN were still paying me £200 per acre per annum towards the maintenance costs of my site, because of a change in EN’s methodology and my refusal to fence off my SSSI and graze it, the site was declared to be in an unfavourable condition. The reason I was given was that because of the ‘scrub development, and local dominance of Deschampsia and Molinia’…English Nature does not believe that the management regime you operate will sustain the scientific interest of the SSI in the long term’. In 2006 EN brought in one of its National Nature Reserve managers to ‘independently’ assess my site and he gave it a glowing report and found it to be in a ‘favourable condition’, much to the chagrin of EN’s Lyndhurst office that had insisted on the survey. Meanwhile, my site is being sustained in the long term, while EN and its Hampshire staff and headquarters at Lyndhurst have long since disappeared.

It is not so much a case of NE’s Panglossian view of the past, as it is the complete distortion of the cultural-historical land-use history of heathlands/commons that has brought about the present management issues that Jonty Denton rightly questions. Here is a sample taken from one of EN’s publications: Common land [was] created by centuries-old livestock farming practices. In the lowlands, under-grazing and scrub invasion is the problem because there may be few or no practising commoners, and owners choose to run stock on cultivated grasslands for better productivity.1 As EN were aware, such cynically simplistic and totally fallacious statements, cobbled together for purely political purposes, required a PhD thesis in repudiation. As one who has spent the last thirty years researching the landscape and land-use history of the north Hampshire commons and woodlands. 2. I have found contemporary evidence that in 1798 its heathlands were a ‘wide extent of heath and scattered furze, with wide boggy bottoms; very little interrupted by enclosures and quite free from the fir plantations, which have now swallowed up so much of it’.3 Of the latter, Cobbett was complaining in 1826 that in north Hampshire ‘Plenty of fir trees and other rubbish have been recently planted but no oaks’.4 Initially the conifers were used for hop poles, and then for pit-props.

In Hampshire, records confirm that whilst the heathlands owned by the Crown were a supplementary source of fodder for livestock at a time when all such sources had to be utilized, the physical presence of the commoners’ livestock, when coupled to their oral testament, also provided the evidence needed to strengthen their claim to prescriptive common rights over the heathland. But both of these uses were of secondary importance and almost insignificant by comparison with the primary use of the heathlands, which was as a source of fuel, that included birch, blackthorn, sallow, gorse, heather, turves, bracken, and peat, used by the community at large. It was the interaction of all these uses, not to mention spontaneous or controlled burning, that maintained the flora and fauna on the heathlands that survived until at least the 1950s. In that decade the cessation of those disparate land-uses led to the heathlands being covered in the dense growths of birch, gorse, and heather that have been abundant ever since, and that a few fenced-in cattle are failing to control.


1. English Nature, For the common good, in Sitelines, Issue 44, Summer 03, p12.

2. Alan Albery, Woodland Management in Hampshire, 900 to 1815, in Rural History (2011) 22, 2, 159-18, (CUP 2011).

3. A Sexagenarian, Recollections of the early days of the Vine Hunt, (London, 1865), p35.

4. William Cobbett, Rural Rides, (Aylesbury, 1983), p. 65.

Yours sincerely

Alan Albery


Before anyone had seen a word of what I had written I was approached by three people high up in conservation (with whom I had never met or corresponded with before) telling me what to write and hoping I wouldn’t ‘rock the boat’. Clearly a raw nerve was exposed, but the paranoiac reaction seemed excessive, and it is troubling that so many felt all was hunky dory. The grazing revolution started at more or less the same time as British Wildlife was born, yet these pages are hardly strewn with great success stories, surely anyone with a proven positive would have been keen to publish and share? It came as no surprise that not one correspondent responded with positive input on the cost effectiveness argument.
I have long shared Trevor Beebee’s desire to see more extensive ‘blasted heath’, but at sites like our beloved Woolmer Forest the priority for creating such a landscape is the proven restoration method of pine plantation removal and scrape and seed. Examples of this are manifold and grazing has not been a necessary follow up at least in the medium term. Lack of space meant I did not mention the on-going Red Deer grazing scheme on the Pirbright Ranges in Surrey. I for one hope this is a success, and maybe one-day be extended to the landscape so splendidly described by Gilbert White. It seems eminently sensible to use our largest native herbivore especially one with such a proven track record of woodland suppression.
I regularly drive past extensive sandy areas (created by sand and gravel extraction) ideal for Natterjacks and the early seral stage specialists, which are crying out to be brought into conservation management. Targeting these areas rather than persisting with a dogged insistence in trying to turn the clock back at sites like Frensham Little Pond which now supports an extremely valuable reed and Carr assemblage, not just Reed Warblers. It is tragic that after 20 years of supposed positive mitigation for protected species legislation on development sites the length and breadth of the country have yielded so very little in terms of new areas of heath or anything else to offset the relentless spread of concrete.
In response to Keith Alexander, I agree and have no problem with well designed winter, spring and autumn ‘pulse’ grazing, indeed winter grazing with Hereford x Friesian crosses on Churt Flashes, Surrey was very effective at controlling pine up to 2m. However graziers are reluctant to winter graze in the more severe winter conditions which prevail away from Cornwall. I do however firmly believe that no grazing is better than bad grazing especially on small sites. His points about the details of the Vera model are not the issue. I believe the theory has considerable merit, however it was taken by many as a green light to trust to luck with grazing, believing ‘nature will find a way’. It is hard to believe anyone would seriously have contemplated removing the fences around Holmsley and Wootton Enclosures had it not been for the sheer fashionability of Vera at the time. His theory appealed (especially to many of the fresh faces coming into heathland management posts, and dare one add people in NE (keen to appease the politicians) who could hijack it to justify the condition assessment fudge) rather in the way the 1970s trend for viewing the native American tribes on the plains as ‘living in harmony’ which was far from realistic! It is human nature to favour methods which reduce hard graft, after all who could disagree that driving around counting cows is more appealing than slogging away cutting down trees? It is telling that Vera’s works are cited many more times in the conservation literature than the academic.
Several respondents have expressed concern that my article could result in ‘the baby being thrown out with the bathwater’, and remember how hard it was in the early days to get site owners to countenance grazing (something with which I was actively involved and remember well), and didn’t want to have to start again. I do not think there is any danger of this, and it cannot be an excuse for grazing for grazing’s sake.
I have been involved with herptile politics for far too long to reignite the in-house fighting, but reiterate that on dry heath sites with good reptile population grazing simply isn’t worth risking. On more extensive humid heaths the jury is still out and on-going research may help clarify the situation. I can confirm that extremely heavy high density cattle grazing did indeed help juvenile Natterjacks but at the other end of the enclosure the effects on the mature humid heath were far from desirable!
As for the New Forest, the invertebrate fauna over large tracts may be stable, over others it is extremely depauperate, but is Clive Chatters saying that the likes of Alan Stubbs (with 5 decades worth of collecting experience in the Forest) is deluded? On top of the catastrophic decline of many of the butterflies for which the place was once legendary, are we still in denial that over grazing is not an issue? Yes some butterflies are in free fall despite what would appear to be positive management, but the sheer size of the New Forest should have buffered the worst effects. Not rhetoric, just an inconvenient truth!
To say that the Holmsley and Wootton Enclosure example ‘does little to illuminate heathland restoration’ is astonishing! If the fences had been removed, both enclosures would have been thrown in with the surrounding heathland grazing regime, so I believe it is highly pertinent to the issues discussed. The trespass grazing was necessary and helpful as I point out (hardly an anti-grazing stance!), but the removal of the fencing which had been advocated ( and the critical protection against over grazing it provided) was a threat to the survival of some of the last populations of species (including plants) manifestly in decline in the New Forest. In this way the enclosures act as substantial exclosures (something worryingly absent or hopelessly inadequate for most grazing schemes) which enable us to see what is being suppressed by grazing (and for that matter the obverse of scrub/woodland development). My view expressed at the time that removing the fences would be an act of crass stupidity is endorsed by some of the greatest entomologists in the land. In hindsight I was far too diplomatic listing the likely impacts of moderate summer grazing on the scarce inverts. I would encourage the reader to look again at the original photo (page 340) and make up their own minds as to the likely effect on the fauna (and flora) present if subjected to the severe grazing pressure on the surrounding heath. They may conclude as I do that it would have been too much for most of the species listed! Yes fences are ugly, but if that is what it takes to keep species from local extinction then what is wrong with having different grazing densities in different areas, it is no more unnatural than grazing with domestic animals. There is no consistency: I was appalled to see hideous permanent fences going up across Dry Sandford Pit, a small site in modern Oxfordshire in the name of targeting key habitats.
Many of the sites coming into grazing in Surrey and North Hampshire are structurally very similar to those within these enclosures, sites which in many cases already possess rich assemblages including heathland BAP species, after a century without grazing. Without thorough comparison of the relative values of these assemblages we may well be robbing Peter to pay Paul just to satisfy condition assessment criteria! Indeed my concerns extend to other habitats, and the rush to re-establish grazing in pasture woodlands is currently also a very great cause for concern, as the grazing pressure has already had a very marked effect on structural diversity at sites like Burnham Beeches, and parts of Windsor Forest.
NE kindly invited me down to Dorset to look at the impacts of grazing there, including several of the sites which Andy Byfield eludes too. On the humid heath at least, I saw nothing negative and only positives from the grazing there: just floristically and entomologically rich sites. However extrapolation from these well studied, extensive grazing schemes is somewhat misleading. For reasons beyond me the Poole Basin heaths do not have a serious birch problem (see fig 1), thus grazing densities can remain low with clear benefit in terms of Molinia control, and mosaic creation (and Sika deer are something of a joker in the pack). However in my area (Surrey and North Hampshire) birch is the chronic problem,

Fig 1. Exclosure on Hartland Moor after 20 years of grazing: No birch scrub at all even in the absence of grazing, despite a seed source in close proximity.

and grazing far more difficult to balance. Trying to increase overall floristic diversity is often dependent on exposing an existing viable seed bank, or more likely, through colonisation from other sites. In a fragmented landscape, without some intervention the goal of seeing many of the key species return too many sites may require considerable patience, or simply remain a pipe dream. The botanical evidence is strongly supportive of grazing, but in a world where the threat of invasive species grows daily, the goal of bringing back lost species, could well be outweighed by losses through stock spreading problem taxa such as Crassula helmsii.
 Andy Byfield’s assertion that grazing is ‘essential for plants and much else’ is unsustainable. It may be for a few plants, but a look through the 2002 Plant Atlas shows that after 80-100 years without grazing (except by Rabbits) only 4 native vascular plants became extinct on the heaths in my area, (the same number as in the continually grazed New Forest). The same heaths support more species of bee, wasp, spider, herptiles etc., than the later! This is an academic point of logic, not an anti-grazing stance. I support sensible grazing but am not willing to exaggerate the case for grazing as essential, when it is not on many sites, especially on dry heaths where fire is critical and will happen with increasing frequency as public pressure increases.
Many species have declined because of the cessation of other large scale activities such as bracken and birch harvesting, turf stripping, and no-one seems to even consider the ending of peat cutting (which created many of our most important water bodies) for which there is considerable well documented evidence! All these activities create localised effects with clear edges, and it is these edges that so many specialists require, heavy grazing leads to (for want of better word) blandification. The vast majority of ponds on heathland are man-made, and the creation of a pond or two on many of my local sites would bring back far more heath species than grazing at a fraction of the cost of even the fencing. That I am ‘misguided’ in implying that grazing is principally for tree encroachment, is somewhat revisionist to say the least! Every interpretation board I have seen explaining to the public why their local site is being grazed has ‘control of tree and scrub encroachment’ at the top! I sat in many meeting where this was exactly what was promised to the MoD, who haven’t forgotten!
For most of the small sites being grazed there just isn’t space to eliminate the problems affecting the vastly more species rich fauna that over- grazing can have. If you live on the only stand of alder buckthorn, aspen, or live in the only Sphagnum pool etc., it is unlikely your ‘grazing tolerance’ will be much help! Outcome: you lose several rare species in the pursuit of attempting to bring back commoner albeit declining plants, or worse still, simply to appease politicians!
I reiterate that the correct timing and stock type are critical, and it is in this area that more research and a much more imaginative and diverse approach is needed. Above all I believe there is no doubt that there is need for further research and a couple of PhD level studies is required as a minimum, before we continue trusting to luck, and placing some of our last great wildlife havens in the hands of cowherds with little knowledge, working from management plans which completely neglect even the basic invertebrate assemblages needs.
Finally thanks to all the many people who took time to respond: whatever the arguments it is indeed encouraging that so many still care!