Grazing at Lyme

As a conservation charity, our core aim is to ensure that Lyme thrives for ever, for everyone. 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.

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.

A beautiful spot for an afternoon of sheep sunbathing
Sheep enjoying the sunshine at Lyme, Cheshire

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.

What should I do if the cattle start to chase me?

Let your dog off its lead and keep facing the cattle, retreat slowly to the nearest exit. Waving your arms and shouting should stop them from getting too close. Do not turn your back to them and run.