Grazing at Lyme

As a conservation charity, our core aim is to ensure that Lyme thrives for everyone, for ever. The work carried out by the rangers and volunteers is done in line with Lyme's ‘Park Conservation Management Plan’ which was created with the support of National Trust specialists and Natural England. The plan sets out the best way to care for the long term future of Lyme’s diverse landscape and the wildlife that live here. Part of the work outlined includes introducing further sensitive, low intensity grazing at certain times of year.

Conservation grazing at Lyme

The 'fold', as a herd of highland cattle is called, has been steadily growing over the last few years through purchasing but more increasingly through breeding. 

These docile animals are perfectly suited to harsh conditions as experienced at Lyme during the winter months and they live outside right through the year without the need for supplementary feeding. Through the summer they eat and trample the more dominant grass species which gives other more delicate species the opportunity to thrive. During winter they eat the dead grass which not only improves the habitat but also reduces the risk of moorland fires in spring.

The fold move around and graze different areas of the estate at different times depending on various factors, for the most up to date information on where the cattle are currently grazing it is best to check with staff on site and also to take note of signs around the estate which will indicate which areas the cattle are in.

Our herd of sheep help us to maintain the lovely open views across the estate. Without the sheep the pastures wouldn't be full of beautiful fungi in the autumn like the Waxcap in the photo.  The flock leaves Lyme for the winter and returns in the spring when you might spot new lambs alongside their mothers!

Please keep dogs on very short leads in these where livestock are grazing, that way everyone can have a peaceful time during their time at Lyme. Areas with livestock will have clear signage around the gates.

We have a Dog Walker's Welcome Guide that can be viewed below to help you plan your walks at Lyme.

You can find up-to-date information on where cattle and sheep are being grazed by popping in to the Information Centre, or by calling our Estate Office on 01663 761400.

Yellow Waxcap - he's a fungi!
Yellow Waxcap - he's a fungi!
Yellow Waxcap - he's a fungi!

Grazing matters

Many visitors have been asking us why grazing matters and how it helps to give the park the best future possible. Here are the answers to some of the most frequently asked questions.

I have never seen grazing here before? Why the sudden change?

The Legh family who lived at Lyme for nearly 600 years cleared large areas of woodland to create open spaces for farming. Whilst we no longer farm here at Lyme, we do wish to keep these areas open for people to enjoy and for plants and animals to thrive in. Grazing is the most sensitive way of preventing the natural encroachment of bramble, bracken, coarse grasses and tree saplings which would ultimately return these areas to woodland.

Whilst the park has not been grazed to the same level as it would have been during its time as a private estate, grazing has still taken place. Until 2002, the deer grazed the whole park until they were excluded from Cluse Hey, Paddock and West Park.  Cattle have been re-introduced to the moor, Cluse Hey, Turfhouse Meadow and Caters Slack and sheep on the Knott and Drinkwater Meadow.

We are now increasing the amount of grazing because surveys of the park have shown that plant diversity has reduced, with single species dominating in some places. To support a greater range of wildlife we need a good mix of plant species. There also needs to be the right mix of plants to prevent the return to woodland. Grazing will increase biodiversity and maintain the open views, ensuring that wildlife and people can enjoy the park for centuries to come which, as a conservation charity is at the heart of everything we do.

Lyme' highland cattle are regularly moved to new grazing areas
Two rangers, wearing red, encourage highland cattle to move past a drystone wall
Lyme' highland cattle are regularly moved to new grazing areas

Why are you grazing cattle? Why can’t you just use tractors and machinery?

In the absence of woodland, grazing animals have helped to shape many of our semi-natural habitats, allowing the development of rich and diverse wildlife communities as well as the flourishing of wildflowers and delicate grasses. Grazing is the most effective and sustainable way to maintain our grassland, meadows, moorland and heathland and their huge variety of plants and animals.

Here are some ways that grazing helps:

Grazing animals eat selectively and often choose the more dominant plant species, which allows less competitive plants to become established and increases species diversity. As they graze across the landscape, the animals decide for themselves where to concentrate their efforts and create a mosaic of different sward lengths and micro habitats.

Lying, rolling and pushing also serve to increase the structural diversity of the sward. This is important for ground nesting birds like lapwing and snipe that need a varied sward structure to successfully rear their young.

Trampling creates areas of bare ground, which is beneficial in moderation. It creates nurseries for seedlings that might not otherwise survive and creates habitats and hunting grounds for open ground, warmth-loving invertebrates and reptiles.

Dung creates a whole ecosystem by itself! Conservation grazing animals are usually grazed in extensive, low pressure systems so there is little need for chemicals to control internal parasites. This means that a whole range of wildlife moves into a cowpat to set up home - more than 250 species of insect are found in or on cattle dung in the UK and these in turn provide food for birds, badgers, foxes and bats.

Why not use tractors?

Livestock grazing has a less instantaneous impact than burning or cutting, allowing less-mobile wildlife to thrive. The grazing animals can also access areas that machinery can’t. Tractors can also possibly cause a lot of damage to the ground.

Why can’t ‘footfall’ do the work, surely if you allow enough people to walk through there that will do the job?

Footfall is not an effective management tool as it simply tramples the vegetation and then, as can be seen around Paddock Cottage, prevents it from growing. Yes it keeps the vegetation down (but only on the bits that are walked on) but it doesn’t allow grasses and wildflowers to flower and seed.

What animals are you using to graze?

There will be sheep in some areas and Highland Cattle in others. The deer will continue to graze across most areas of the park. Highland Cattle are very docile animals and they are not aggressive.

When will grazing take place, can you give us a specific date and time scale for when they’re on/off?

Conservation grazing is not an exact science and the length and timings of grazing times depends very much on the amount of grass growth, weather conditions and the number of cattle available. We don’t want to say in advance the exact grazing periods as sometimes plans have to change. We may be able to give a better idea once grazing has been established for a few years.

Do I have to have my dog on a lead? My dog is really well behaved and won’t chase the cattle.

We ask that dogs are kept on a lead in areas grazed by sheep and when cattle are grazing at Paddock Cottage. In other grazing areas, please keep dogs under close control or on a lead if you are not confident your dog can be recalled. Any dog is capable of causing panic in cattle, sheep or deer either intentionally or otherwise.