Aftermath grazing is a vital part of managing North Meadow National Nature Reserve. North Meadow is designated as a Special Area of Conservation (SAC) and a Site of Scientific Interest (SSSI) for its rare species rich grassland. It is also the main research site for the Floodplain Meadows Partnership. Over the last 50 years 97% of this rare grassland habitat has been lost to agricultural improvement.
For hundreds of years the site has been managed as Lammas Land. This means growing a hay crop from mid-February to July followed by aftermath grazing.
This year we started grazing with 55 cattle on 3rd September. Court members install 2.5km of electric fencing to prevent the cattle from escaping into adjacent fields or damaging the rivers,
To provide water we install 8 pasture pumps which draw water from the river Churn.
Court members check the fences daily. If the fence is turned off for any reason, such as a flat battery or electrical short, the animals can become tangled in the wire causing nasty leg injuries.
Why is Grazing Important?
Grazing cattle recycle the nutrients back into the soil. They create small areas of bare ground which allow seeds to germinate and keep vigorous grasses in check, allowing the rare wildflowers to flourish. Aftermath grazing maintains a rich plant species diversity of up to 40 species per square metre.
The cow pats are essential for many invertebrates. Many species of insect can be found in or on cattle dung and these in turn provide food for birds, badgers, foxes and bats.
Natural England have provided a fuller explanation of the merits of conservation grazing in this leaflet.
Duration of Aftermath Grazing
We try to graze for a minimum of 6 weeks with the cattle, during the window of time between hay cut and the onset of winter flooding. This year we are planning to graze for about 10 weeks. Up to 15 horses will be on until December weather permitting.
Grazing is progressing well this year and we can look forward to seeing a beautiful species rich meadow next year.