Conservation and habitat management
Hengistbury Head, along with our other main Local Nature Reserves (LNRs), has a management plan setting out the key objectives and a management programme. The management programme is informed by monitoring and research data.
On Hengistbury Head, we have a herd of Shetland cattle, and a small flock of Cotswold Sheep.
These breeds are very hardy, they are used to living in exposed locations with low quality grazing. We have recently welcomed Shetland bull 'Arwel' to the herd, providing us with some very cute calves and helping to increase diversity amongst bloodlines, and help add to their population which is still in decline.
Bloodlines are important to Shetland Cattle, back in the 1960’s, they were considered critically endangered, with around 60 animals left worldwide. Only four of these animals were bulls and so each and every Shetland cow you see today is from the bloodline of one of those four bulls; therefore it is important that in-breeding is minimised and the most is made from the animals that exist now. With thanks to the breeds versatility and durability, it is no longer endangered and is one of the favourite choices of nature reserve managers.
Our small herd of Cotswold Sheep help to graze sensitive areas such as Double Dykes. Sheep are the perfect choice, as they are able to keep the scrub and grass down to a short height – preventing larger plants with longer roots developing (which also destabilises the banks).
The Cotswold sheep (known as Cotswold Lions), are largely credited with the boom of wool production that has left the area of the Cotswold Hills with a rich history of farms and market towns. But their numbers have declined over the centuries, as other breeds have become more fashionable. Since the end of the First World War, their numbers have increased however, thanks largely to the efforts of the Cotswold Sheep Society. The Cotswold Lion does not require any shelter as their coat has developed protection against the UK climate. The breed was prized for the fast growth rate of its fleece.
Why grazing is important
The cattle and the sheep both affect the wildlife and habitats that are here. Without management, many of our habitats would develop with age, as an example, meadows would become dominated with grass and then scrub, such as bramble. Scrub is very important component of some habitats, it provides nesting opportunities for birds and it can be a food plant for a great many invertebrates. However, having lost 97% of our wildflower meadows in the past 100 years as well as many of the species that survive on them, it is important that we don’t allow our habitats to become dominated by other plants, like bramble.
The action of grazing prevents the dominance by grass and they also create bare ground, which provides opportunities for wildflowers to germinate. Barn Field, adjacent to the Visitor Centre, is a great example of the benefits of grazing, the collection of plant species here represent a very ancient community. These types of meadows attract other rare species, including birds such as Skylarks and Meadow Pipits, and moths including the 6-spot Burnet.