For your woodland grazing plan, you will have calculated the grazing regime most likely to achieve your biodiversity and/or cultural heritage objectives. However the effects of implementing this grazing regime will not be easy to predict. In order to determine whether you are moving towards your management targets, it is essential that you track changes in woodland condition and adapt your grazing regime as necessary.

In section 7 of your woodland grazing plan:

  • Describe how you propose to monitor your site. You will need to track changes in the key habitats defined in section 4b of your management plan. You may also wish to monitor the condition of other features such as scarce species or archaeology.
  • Specify the frequency and timing of monitoring for the five years of your woodland grazing plan.
  • Specify who will undertake the monitoring. This could be the grazier, woodland owner/ manager or woodland surveyor but it is important to be clear from the outset who will take responsibility for monitoring. A specialist surveyor may be needed to monitor scarce species or to assist with a Woodland Herbivore Impact Assessment (WHIA). 

How to monitor change

For a full monitoring assessment, follow the methodology detailed in the WHIA, using the WHIA guidance notes to determine monitoring frequency and timing. Frequency and timing will depend on your objectives, the nature of your grazing regime and the requirements of a grant scheme, if you are entered into one.

Current herbivore impacts should be assessed for each key habitat defined in section 4 of your plan. The WHIA methodology does not require monitoring stops to be in exactly the same spot each time but they should be in the same habitat and in roughly the same location.  

The WHIA gives detailed guidance on how to recognise different current herbivore impact levels for key impact indicators, with links to a library of visual images in Table 4. Changes to woodland structure are generally long-term processes and frequent monitoring for most structure classes (as defined in the WHIA Table 6) would not be necessary or useful, though for some, e.g. open ground or woodland regeneration, change should be apparent within the five-year lifetime of the plan and should be noted. WHIA Table 5 is a list of links to photos with examples of woodland structure classes.

When you have carried out the assessment the results can be compared with previous results, both for individual stops and for the woodland as a whole. If this is your first monitoring survey, compare the results with the original assessment. For subsequent surveys, compare the result with the previous assessment, with the assessment at the same time last year, if different, and with the original baseline assessment.

Using the WHIA for monitoring both livestock and deer impacts

If you have a deer management plan, this should include a monitoring programme. If possible, time the monitoring for deer impacts to complement the monitoring for woodland grazing, using the same methodology.

For example, if monitoring for seasonal livestock impacts just before and just after an autumn grazing period, assess overall herbivore impacts for the past year in early spring just before the current year’s growth has begun.

This timing of three monitoring visits enables you to estimate deer impacts for the parts of the year when livestock were not on the ground (from the end of the last autumn grazing period through to the start of the grazing period in the following year). The changes in impact levels between the start and finish of the grazing period would then be a combination of deer and livestock impacts and distinguishing one from the other would be a question of interpretation. The toolbox contains information on recognising the impacts of deer and distinguishing them for those of other species.

Adapting the woodland grazing plan over time

Action should be taken to adapt the grazing regime if monitoring indicates that this is necessary. Adaptation where necessary is key to making a woodland grazing project meet its objectives. Variables such as weather, livestock availability and herbivore feeding and movement patterns may change from year to year and these should be taken into account before deciding how to adapt the grazing regime.

Fixed point photography

Photography is part of the WHIA methodology but to pick up subtle changes in woodland structure over a number of years, consider fixed point photography.