Grazers and Browsers

aurochs source wikipedia commonsThe role of large mammals in ecosystems.

It’s National Mammal Week and at PONT we wanted to raise awareness of the grazing animals that help to manage ecosystems across Wales.

Large herbivores such as cows, ponies and sheep are key in shaping the character of a habitat. To demonstrate how, we want to take you back to Britain around 12,000 years ago. Large mammals such as aurochsen, the ancestor of modern cattle, tarpan, the European wild horse, elk and herds of red and roe deer roamed across the landscape. The large herds of grazing animals maintained species-rich grasslands, while grazing and browsing in woodland created a habitat matrix, including open clearings and grassy rides.

Coastal grazing with cattleAs the population of humans grew and we began to en-fence wild lands and manage woodlands, conflict with humans, competition with domestic livestock and hunting for food led to the extinction of many of these large herbivores. The UK landscape became largely sculpted by humans and in the areas where humans were not managing the landscape, the absence of large herbivores led to succession and domination of closed-canopy forest.

In our modern landscape, our domestic species are now taking the place of these ancient animals to fulfil habitat management roles. Grazing animals have a significant effect on nutrient cycles, soil properties, above and below ground productivity, plant composition, fire regimes and many other ecosystem processes. Grazing maintains a matrix of habitats that is essential to the survival of many species of wildlife.

A lack of appropriate grazing is one of the biggest threats to our wildlife and species-rich habitats in the UK. PONT is working to ensure that conservation grazing is introduced at sites that require grazing management across Wales. Get in touch if you would like to discuss a conservation grazing project.



[2] Piñeiro, G., Paruelo, J. M., Oesterheld, M., & Jobbágy, E. G. (2010). Pathways of grazing effects on soil organic carbon and nitrogen. Rangeland Ecology & Management, 63(1), 109–119.



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