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Providing evidence to improve practice

Action: Mow or cut semi-natural grasslands/pastures Bird Conservation

Key messages

Read our guidance on Key messages before continuing

  • Of four studies captured, one, a before-and-after study from the UK, found that local wader populations increased following the annual cutting semi-natural grasslands.
  • A replicated, controlled study from the UK found that ducks grazed at higher densities on cut areas, a second replicated study from the UK found that goose grazing densities were unaffected by cutting frequency.
  • A replicated study from the USA found that Henslow's sparrows were more likely to be recaptured on unmown, compared with mown grasslands.


Supporting evidence from individual studies


A replicated controlled study in 1971-1973 in an area of grazed salt marsh Bridgewater Bay, Somerset, England (Cadwalladr & Morley 1974), found that wigeon Anas penelope grazed at significantly higher densities on areas of red fescue Festuca rubra that were both grazed and cut, compared to areas that were only grazed (20-1,135 droppings/30 m2 for eight cut areas vs. 0-15 for eight uncut areas). The cut and grazed areas were used at the same rate as areas of eight areas of salt marsh grass Puccinellia maritima (32-695 droppings/30 m2). The grazed areas contained large amounts of unpalatable rank fescue. Sheep were used to graze the marsh in May-September, but were removed before the arrival of wigeon in winter. Areas were cut short in September so that they resembled the areas of salt marsh grass.



A series of replicated trials on grassland sites at two reserves in Essex, England, between 1990 and 1992 (Vickery et al. 1994) found that brent geese Branta bernicla grazing densities on 24 grassland plots were not affected by the frequency of grass cutting (between two and five times a year). There were no differences between areas that were only cut, cut and grazed or only grazed. This study is discussed further in ‘Fertilise grasslands’ and ‘Employ grazing in natural and semi-natural habitats’.



A before-and-after study on three islands (14.5 to 28 ha)  in Lower Lough Erne RSPB reserve, Northern Ireland (Robson & Allcorn 2006), found that numbers of northern lapwing Vanellus vanellus (one pair in 2000 vs. approximately 20 in 2005) and common redshank Tringa totanus (approximately 17 vs. 45) increased in response to the cutting of patches of rushes Juncus spp. in winter (January-February). Lapwings nested almost exclusively in cut patches, whilst redshank nested in uncut areas, but their chicks used the adjacent open areas for feeding.



A replicated study at a mine site in Ohio, USA (Ingold et al. 2009), in 1999-2007 found that ten of 99 (10%) Henslow's sparrows Ammodramus henslowii ringed on four unmown non-native grassland were recaptured, whereas none of the 15 birds ringed on four mown grasslands were recaptured. In total, 87% of ringed birds were caught on unmown grasslands. Experimental plots were established in 1999 and the mown plots cut in mid-April every year. birds were ringed in 2000-2007 and recaptured in 2001-2007.


Referenced papers

Please cite as:

Williams, D.R., Child, M.F., Dicks, L.V., Ockendon, N., Pople, R.G., Showler, D.A., Walsh, J.C., zu Ermgassen, E.K.H.J. & Sutherland, W.J. (2019) Bird Conservation. Pages 141-290 in: W.J. Sutherland, L.V. Dicks, N. Ockendon, S.O. Petrovan & R.K. Smith (eds) What Works in Conservation 2019. Open Book Publishers, Cambridge, UK.