The changing character of woodland

When livestock and deer are removed from a wood it slowly changes in character. The field layer is very likely to become rank and some plants will be crowded out. Over time, and depending on the character of the wood and the impact of wild herbivores, trees may begin to regenerate and fill up the open spaces in and around the wood. More and more plant species may be suppressed. Habitat for certain insects and birds may be lost. Archaeological remains and other features of historical significance may become threatened.

This process is complex but by working out an optimum level of grazing by livestock and wild herbivores it should be possible to enhance the biodiversity of the woodland and safeguard its cultural heritage.

Woodland management objectives

Your management objectives may include woodland regeneration, including the regeneration of browse-sensitive tree species. Your woodland may be in serious decline caused by many years of overgrazing. In these cases, you might want to consider a reduction in grazing levels or total livestock exclusion for a number of years, or the exclusion of livestock from part of your wood.

Most woodlands in Scotland that are not deer fenced are impacted, often heavily, by deer. Before considering the use of controlled stock grazing, first assess the likely impact of deer, or other wild or feral herbivores, on your woodland. You may decide that wild herbivore management alone will achieve your woodland management objectives.

Alternatively, you may find that your objectives are best met through woodland operations unconnected with livestock or deer management, such as more effective thinning, tree planting or scarifying the ground.

If you feel total livestock exclusion is necessary, controlled woodland grazing is not for you just now and you may want to review the situation in a few years’ time. However, you may find that a combination of controlling deer numbers and introducing a grazing regime designed to achieve your objectives is your best option.

In this case the Woodland Grazing Toolbox should help you decide on the grazing regime most likely to achieve your objectives.