Mixed grazing systems benefit both upland biodiversity and livestock production

Type Article
Original languageEnglish
Article numbere89054
JournalPLoS One
Volume9
Issue number2
DOI
Publication statusPublished - 13 Feb 2014
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Abstract

With world food demand expected to double by 2050, identifying farming systems that benefit both agricultural production and biodiversity is a fundamentally important challenge for the 21st century, but this has to be achieved in a sustainable way. Livestock grazing management directly influences both economic outputs and biodiversity on upland farms while contributing to potentially damaging greenhouse gas emissions, yet no study has attempted to address these impacts simultaneously.Using a replicated, landscape-scale field experiment consisting of five management ‘systems’ we tested the effects of progressively altering elements within an upland farming system, viz i) incorporating cattle grazing into an upland sheep system, ii) integrating grazing of semi-natural rough grazing into a mixed grazing system based on improved pasture, iii) altering the stocking ratio within a mixed grazing system, and iv) replacing modern crossbred cattle with a traditional breed. We quantified the impacts on livestock productivity and numbers of birds and butterflies over four years. We found that management systems incorporating mixed grazing with cattle improve livestock productivity and reduce methane emissions relative to sheep only systems. Systems that also included semi-natural rough grazing consistently supported more species of birds and butterflies, and it was possible to incorporate bouts of summer grazing of these pastures by cattle to meet habitat management prescriptions without compromising cattle performance overall. We found no evidence that the system incorporating a cattle breed popular as a conservation grazer was any better for bird and butterfly species richness than those based on a mainstream breed, yet methane emissions from such a system were predicted to be higher. We have demonstrated that mixed upland grazing systems not only improve livestock production, but also benefit biodiversity, suggesting a ‘win-win’ solution for farmers and conservationists.