Action: Reduce intensity of livestock grazing
Key messagesRead our guidance on Key messages before continuing
- One study evaluated the effects on peatland vegetation of reducing livestock grazing intensity. This study was in bogs.
- Vegetation cover (1 study): One replicated, paired, controlled study in bogs in the UK found that total vegetation and shrub cover were greater where grazing intensity was lower. Cottongrass cover was greater where grazing intensity was lower (one species) or unaffected by grazing intensity (one species).
- Vegetation structure (1 study): The same study found that vegetation biomass was higher where grazing intensity was lower.
This section considers the effects of reducing the intensity of grazing, but not completely removing livestock from peatlands. Grazing intensity could be reduced by letting fewer animals graze, allowing them to graze for fewer days (rotational or seasonal grazing), providing supplementary food as an alternative to living plants and/or encouraging use of alternative sites (e.g. through placement of feeding stations or shelter).
Domestic livestock directly consume peatland vegetation, destroy peatland vegetation by trampling, create bare patches of ground (e.g. repeatedly used tracks), and affect nutrient balance through excretion (Lindsay et al. 2014). Lower intensity grazing may have less of an impact and may maintain a more desirable plant community (Middleton et al. 2006). Plant groups or species that are most affected by trampling or are selectively grazed (Grant et al. 1987) could to recover to more desirable levels. Maintaining some grazing may prevent any one species from becoming over-abundant.
Key peatland types where this action may be appropriate: bogs, fens/fen meadows, tropical peat swamps.
Related actions: completely remove livestock from degraded peatlands; low intensity grazing as a traditional or novel conservation tool.
Grant S.A., Suckling S.A., Smith H.K., Torvell L., Forbes T.D.A. & Hodgson J. (1987). Comparative studies of diet selection by sheep and cattle: blanket bog and heather moor. Journal of Ecology, 75, 947–960.
Lindsay R., Birnie R. & Clough J. (2014) Grazing and Trampling. IUCN UK Peatland Programme Briefing Note No. 7.
Middleton B., Holsten B. & van Diggelen R. (2006) Biodiversity management of fens and fen meadows by grazing, cutting and burning. Applied Vegetation Science, 9, 307–316.
Supporting evidence from individual studies
A replicated, paired, controlled study in 1971–1982 in three recently burned blanket bogs in Scotland, UK (Grant et al. 1985) found that plots under lower grazing intensities had greater vegetation biomass and cover than more heavily grazed plots. After six years, vascular plant above-ground biomass was greater in lightly/moderately grazed plots (550–557 g/m2) than in heavily grazed plots (346 g/m2). After 11 years, the lightly/moderately grazed plots also had greater total vegetation cover (light: 81%; moderate: 69%; heavy: 48%), shrub cover (light: 13–53%; moderate: 9–38%; heavy: 8–26%) and sheathed cottongrass Eriophorum vaginatum cover (light: 15%; moderate: 11%; heavy: 6%). Cover of common cottongrass Eriophorum angustifolium was similar under all grazing intensities (data not reported). From August 1971, one 0.1 ha plot/bog was grazed under each intensity: light (136–237 sheep grazing days/ha/yr), moderate (296–494) or heavy (484–810). Between 1971 and 1980, dry above-ground biomass was measured in ten quadrats (approximately 25 x 50 cm) per plot. In 1972 and 1982, vegetation cover was measured in 20 point quadrats/plot.