Mixed-species grazing management to improve sustainability and biodiversity

Authors Organisations
Type Special issue
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)247-257
Number of pages10
JournalScientific and Technical Review
Issue number1
Publication statusPublished - 01 Apr 2018
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Mixed grazing systems occur when two or more large herbivores graze together. Body size and anatomical differences between animal species are reflected in differences in diet selection and foraging behaviour, which can bring about opportunities for complementary pasture use. The extent to which niche separation occurs within our farming systems depends on the degree of sward heterogeneity and the scale of the resource available, with cultivated swards generally offering comparatively little occasion for selective grazing compared to native pastures. However, even then there are opportunities for mixed grazing to benefit productivity. A range of studies have shown that if sheep are grazed together with cattle on simple grass:white clover swards their performance is improved relative to sheep only grazing, leading to a higher total output per unit area. Semi-natural vegetation communities offer much more opportunity for selective grazing as they are generally more botanically and structurally diverse. Examples are given of the impact of losing large and small grazers from grazed ecosystems in marginal areas. Loss of cattle grazing from the uplands of Wales has been instrumental in the spread of invasive hill grass species linked to the loss of heathland habitats of international conservation importance. Conversely, loss of sheep and goats from common lands in the Cantabrian Mountains has led to the progressive expansion of woody vegetation, again at the expense of heathlands. Such examples highlight the role mixed grazing can play in promoting economic and environmental sustainability, particularly in marginal areas.