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Farmland habitats and species

Numerous plant and animal species are associated with the variety of farmland habitats, but the well-publicised population declines or losses of many of these species are mainly related to habitat loss or change. There has been a reduction in the area of the various semi-natural habitats associated with traditional, mixed farming. There has also been an increased intensity of management of the actual cultivated or grazed land. In Scotland , habitat losses have occurred predominantly in lowland, fertile areas dominated by intensive arable farming. Decline in habitat quality has been a major factor in marginal, grazed upland and north western areas (Birnie et al., 2004).

A recent survey of the effects of cattle on Scotland's natural heritage found that, as cattle are less selective in their grazing behaviour than other domestic herbivores, their impact is different from that of, for example, sheep. Compared to other domestic grazers, cattle result in:

  • A more structurally diverse sward,
  • A reduction in the cover of tussock forming species,
  • Creation of more niches for plant regeneration.

For the habitats for which there is empirical information, in most cases, grazing by cattle is either beneficial or at least neutral, provided that the grazing is at an appropriate stocking density and seasonal pattern. There is, however, very little information on the direct effects of cattle grazing on priority species (Wright et al, 2005). There are also a number of aspects of cattle systems that can prove beneficial for biodiversity, including the need for fodder crops.

Woodland Species >>