The current emphasis of the bTB programme is on cattle kept for commercial purposes. In the past government conservation departments have encouraged landowners to keep cattle for conservation grazing (which has been proven to encourage biodiversity). Officially cattle are seen as merely a commodity with a commercial value only, yet the conservation value of cattle with regards to species diversity is undisputed and should not be undervalued. However, with inflexible programmes in place, such as those for bTB, it is likely that these cattle owners will give up their herds or will not replace animals in the future. Does this matter? I believe it does. We are currently losing more and more species as a result of man's influences. As life of all species is so intrinsically entwined we do not know what the consequences will be for the human race if losses continue at the current rate. There are so many issues involved but one topical one is that as set aside is no longer an option on many farms, this will cause further declines in bird populations, for example.
2 Dec 2013, 6:22 PM
Following the introduction of more stringent rules regarding testing for bovine TB in England (came in re Wales some years ago) cattle could disappear from the moors of the Westcountry.
The traditional sight of hardy native breeds grazing the common lands of Dartmoor, Exmoor and Bodmin Moor would disappear, industry experts have warned, if commoners were forced to test all their animals for bovine TB before they moved them on or off common land.
The measure was unveiled by Environment Secretary Owen Paterson in the House of Commons on Thursday as part of new proposals to try to make Britain TB-free within 25 years. Other measures include withholding part of the subsidy payments for farmers who fail to have their cattle TB tested on time – a proposal already criticised by NFU president Peter Kendall, who has demanded all farmers affected have the right of appeal.
But it is the specific impact on the unique communities of the high moorland of the Westcountry that could be the most dramatic, if the measures – currently being consulted upon – are introduced.
Dartmoor National Park Authority chief executive Kevin Bishop said the authority would be concerned if the changes caused cattle to be taken off the moor. "The implication for moorland grazing policy and agri-environment schemes could be significant," he warned, adding that the authority had already penned a joint letter with the Dartmoor Commoners Council to ministers to highlight concerns.
Farmer Anton Coaker, a columnist with the Western Morning News, said: "If the Ministry chose to go down the route of insisting on the most extreme requirements it would definitely mean the end of commoning on Dartmoor."
Grazing on the moors is widely acknowledged to be beneficial for the landscape and other wildlife, since it keeps down invasive plant cover and helps to provide a habitat for many birds and insects. Meat from animals grazed on the mixed vegetation of the high moorland is also said to have significant health benefits and sells at a premium.
People cannot eat grass. If everyone went vegetarian tomorrow the price of green crops and grain crops would rise well above the purchasing power of most families. Interestingly grass is the one crop that can be grown in all geographic regions except polar.
It is unfair and single subject orientated to consider grass species for none food producing species without also considering the reason why there is such a push to the production of food often using intensive methods. Human food quality crops requires very low moisture content, that means no fungal spores which damage human health, and the absence of unwanted weeds, again, inclusion of these in the crop causes further problems for human quality food and people’s health. Animal quality crops require far less concern for moisture content or purity. There are of course specific and known caveats to this. Nevertheless in many regions in the world grazing animals is the most successful source of food as they successfully convert grass into protein.
So we then hear about something called intensive sustainability. An idea plucked from where? When we look at the primary source document ( IF) we see lots of references made to Africa. References which detail the problems of corruption and the problems associated with logistics getting food to where it’s needed, however these references are not part of the main substantive document instead this document becomes an argument for intensive zero grazed cattle. In Britain we are asked to farm more intensively housing cattle 24/7 in cramped accommodation.
This is a system which produces a lot of toxic waste. Waste is governed by a myriad of Environmental Law one unexpected event such as flash flooding and the farmer is held responsible for the consequences. We can use an anaerobic digester then we have to feed the cattle not only for milk but also for something called dry matter. That means more cereals high protein low water content. The condition of the cows is the last point of concern with that system. There are laws on animal welfare as well. The farmer is left embattled from all sides.
Better to consider why such farming efficiencies need to be made – and that is the huge rise in world population. Then consider the effect of conflict, corruption, economic turmoil, desertification of previously fertile areas and we can see that at the real heart of the matter is human population growth on scarce land resources as populations migrate to more calmer fertile regions. If you want to see the research studies to confirm this help yourself to an enormous list. When some want more land for vegetation and cite loss of insect species spare a thought to who will utilise such arguments for their own gain.
With regards to matters in England with regards to bTB the problem is one of uncontrolled disease, focussing on the control of disease is the key. We will never eradicate the spores present in the environment. Even now there is Blackleg and incidents of Botulism outbreaks amongst grazing herds, outbreaks of Anthrax are rare but it does mean that spores are present. It is also reasonable to suggest bT.B. will always be in the environment. The vectors are likely to be either standing water or disturbed earth. Animal’s bodily fluids or spores – which came first? - will be the method of spreading this disease.
Quite a separate point is the growth in top predators usually noted from the increase in holes and collapsed tunnels. This leads back to disturbed earth and contaminated standing water with urine from infected animals. Too much of a population of one species will also upset the natural biodiversity as the top predator will prey on ground nests as well as earth worms. Many research papers also point to this occurring – take your pick.
There are then good reasons for a cull, contraception management and vaccination programme of any wildlife interfering with disease control and biodiversity. Monitor all and everything but a strategy which reduces numbers of top predators and reduces the incidence of disease which affects affordable food is essential.
Finally fairness - injustice is unbearable. Compare people who sit in offices and type words compared to those who are tasked dally to manage the land, hopefully to make a living. Create an onerous environment and the farms will end up in the hands of the few. The few like the Midlands Pig Group financed by Leavesley International who in turn sell recycled guns and military equipment to Sierra Leone and S.E Asian countries none of which are noted for their stability. Yes that was Sierra Leone of The Blood Diamond infamy. Compassion in World Farming also needs to look carefully at who is financing farming units are they being used to supply credibility. They have to remember there are many others who have their own eyes and ears on animal welfare.
Choose what you want and who you want to be in charge of your food production. Look at everything and not just your favourite subject at college or university. Above all look at all points of the compass on this or any other subject close to the heart.
24 Jun 2013, 2:48 PM
For the first time ever, the UK’s wildlife organisations have joined forces to undertake a health check of nature in the UK and its Overseas Territories. The report reveals that 60% of the species studied have declined over recent decades. More than one in ten of all the species assessed are under threat of disappearing from our shores altogether.
Iolo Williams summed up the situation in his passionate speech at its launch on 22 May 2013. Well said Iolo, I recognised how genuinely passionate about wildlife you were when we met briefly recently when you came to see the otters on our farm. If only there were many more like him there may be hope but in this technological age where few seem to care or even appreciate and really look around them, I wonder ... Iola's speech is reproduced below - he is not afraid to be critical of those bureaucrats who purport to be working for the countryside and its amazing flora and fauna, much of which is disappearing at an alarming rate. Is there really any hope when most people remain so obsessed with short term profit and greed?
I’m Welsh, I’m Welsh, first language. I am proud of the fact that I am Welsh, but tonight, I will be talking to you in English and that’s because I don’t want anything to be lost in translation, at all. I could have talked a little bit about the report, but I know that’s going to be done now, in a bit, talk about the facts and figures. The horrendous facts and figures if I was to be blunt, that are held within that report. And in a short while, I know that Sir David Attenborough will be addressing people in London as well, and a more knowledgeable, a more erudite speaker, you couldn’t hope to have. He is to millions of people, all over the world, hundreds of millions of people, the voice that wildlife until recently never had & I’m so glad that we’ve got him.
What I’m going to do is to talk to you about my own little patch. It’s an area that I’ve known for 50 years now and I’ve grown to love, very much. It’s not very big; it’s roughly 210,000 Km2 . I call it Cymru, most of you will call it Wales. It’s a terrific place. You can walk from mountain top to seashore in just two hours and I was reminded just how stunning it is when I drove down here on a, a lovely May afternoon, sun shining, along the verges cuckoo flower with its delicate pink colours and briallu mair, lovely Welsh name, cowslips too. Just a beautiful thing to behold, on the way down.
And if I may take you back to when I grew up, not when I was a little lad, but in my teens. I’m going back now to the 70’s, to the area around LLanwddyn. It’s a wonderful area, it’s where I was brought up, where my heart will always be. And I spent so many hours and days with my little dog, Bittw, wandering all over the place. Up on the moors, up on the Berwyn moors, looking at hen harriers and merlin and black grouse and these amazing carnivorous plants, sundews and butterwort and curlew, the bubbling call of the curlew. Every valley had a pair of curlew. Every valley had a cuckoo. And then fishing, used to do a lot of fishing when I was a young lad. I used to cast in. I wasn’t a very good fisherman. You’d cast in, you’d watch the birds, you’d watch the wildlife. You’d catch quite a few fish too. A lot of trout in there. You’d take two, didn’t matter if you caught ten, you’d take two and put whatever else you caught back in the river. And while you were there you’d see water voles, lots of water voles and some of the banks were like bits of Swiss cheese all along there. There were that many water voles. And the hay meadows too, adjacent to the River Vyrnwy, owned by the local farmers, Cled Dairy Farm and Parry Ty’n Y Maes. We used to help with the harvest. Always a late harvest, July harvest, they’d cut the hay meadows. And the hay meadows were incredible places then, full of flowers, full of grasshoppers. That’s what I remember. Swallows and house martins swooping low, feeding on the insects and the sound, the constant sound, of grasshoppers.
Not the memory of a small child, I’m not looking back through rose-tinted glasses at all. This is what I remember as a young lad and throughout my teens as well. I’ve moved. I’ve moved about thirty minutes away to live. I’ll never leave mid Wales, except in a box. And I still go back up there as often as I can, but it’s not the same. It’s a changed place now. It’s a changed place. Yes, the people have changed, but the whole nature of that area has changed too.
The moors, still a few lovely things to see up there. The hen harriers are there, the merlin are there. The curlew have gone. Twenty four odd pairs when I used to live there. Three now. I was talking to the warden. I was up there just yesterday. Three pairs left. The valleys are quiet. Cuckoos, didn’t hear a single one when I was up there yesterday. You go down on to the rivers. Talking to an old boy I used to go fishing with. He’s eighty-eight. He said ‘Iolo bach’, he said, ‘Do you know what, I hardly go anymore, very few fish there’. It used to be a very odd day when you didn’t catch anything. Now, you catch something it’s a red letter day. And the water voles, I walked the river, Dafarn Hill, the section of river where I used to fish yesterday. Some of the holes are still there. The water voles are long, long gone.
Ninety percent of our water voles have gone in the last thirty years and the hay meadows, every single one has gone. Every single one. Wales-wide, we’ve lost ninety-nine percent of our hay meadows, since the end of the Second World War. Ninety-nine percent. And the moorland, my beloved moorland, I love the moors. I grew up on the moors, I love the moors. Berwyn is one of the most important bit of moorland in southern Britain and probably the best protected. Forty-four percent of those moors have gone. Forty-four percent has gone and even worse, the other side of the village, Llanbrynmair moor. I used to bike over there and walk it. It used to have golden plover and dunlin, and curlew and short eared owls and hen harrier, red grouse, black grouse, sacrificed by the then Nature Conservancy Council in the 1980’s. Sacrificed, for forestry. It’s now under alien conifers and larch. I was up there three years ago and I’m not ashamed to say, I cried. It’s like going and looking at war graves. That was what came to mind. Row upon row of war graves. Every single tree is a death knell, is a nail in the coffin of that moor.
No point going up there looking for birds now, they are virtually all gone. And people ask me are you angry about that, are you upset at that? Yes of course I am, of course I am. I love the area. I love Wales. And to see this going on really hurts, it really hurts. I say do you blame the man with the plough upon Llanbrynmair moor; do you blame the people who went and stuck the trees in the ground? Do you blame the forestry and the farming for cutting into the Berwyns, for pollution? I say no, I don’t. No, I don’t at all. They have just taken what money was available. They’ve used the grant system to do what they were encouraged to do. That’s all they’ve done. I don’t blame them at all. My anger, and it is an anger, it’s a venom, is aimed at those grey, fat salaried spineless bureaucrats, who sat by and watched all of this happen. People in key positions, who could have made a big difference, who were so concerned with moving up that career ladder, adding to that great big fat pension, rubbing shoulders with the right people, going to the right meetings, saying the right things, that they either forgot about, or didn’t care about, what was going on around ‘em. Those are the ones that I am ANGRY with.
And I tell you this now, you will pay for this, you will answer for this. It won’t be to me, I wish it were, I wish it were, but it won’t be to me and it won’t be to your peers. It’ll come, it’ll come in twenty, thirty, forty years time. It’ll come when you are with your grand children. You might be reading a story, a simple story about a Welsh farmer, who goes out to feed his sheep with lapwings, peewits whirling overhead. Or you might be helping them with their homework, their Welsh or English homework and it might be a bit of poetry about the song of the skylark, as it climbs and climbs and climbs towards the heavens, singing all the way up. Or it might simply be that you are looking at a magazine, or a book, or the internet at a beautiful photograph of a colourful hay meadow, a meadow full of flowers, your buttercups and your dandelions, globe flower maybe. The odd orchid in there as well and hovering above them will be the butterflies. The stunning common blue or the orange tip and you have swallows and house martins feeding away there as well.
And your grand kids will turn to you and they’ll say Taid, or Nain, ‘Grandad, what was it like? What was it like walking through these hay meadows? It must have been lovely to have skylarks all around you singing away. Do you know, it must have been fantastic to walk through all of these damp fields and these funny birds with little caps on called pewits going all around you. What was it like grandad?’ And then they will look you in the eye as only children can, and they say, ‘Hold on now granddad, you said you worked in conservation. You said you were an important man in conservation. Why granddad, why didn’t you look after these for me? Why can’t I go out with you now and see these things? Why didn’t you do more to look after them?’
And I tell you then, and only then, if you’ve got an ounce of humanity left in you, only then will your conscience be pricked and only then will you realise. Despite all of this climbing up the career ladder, being friends with all of the right people, saying all of the right things, getting a fat pension. Despite all of that, your whole career will have amounted to absolutely nothing. Nothing. And even worse, is that you will have let your grand children down.
We only have one Earth, one planet, it’s not as if we can say, well we made a mess of this, let’s get the other one in and start all over again. We cannot do that, and bear in mind, I stand before you, not as a long haired tree-hugging hippy, who’s done the course, who’s read the books. I stand before you as someone who was born, brought up, has lived all of his life, still lives and works in the Welsh countryside. I’ve seen these things happen. I’ve seen these things going on. Now it’s not too late. Almost, but not quite. And we really are, we really are, on the brink of disaster.
Over the past four, five years, I’ve seen a massive change, a huge decline in once common butterflies, once common birds, once common plants. They are disappearing. We need to wake up. We need to change things and we need to change things now. What do we change? A whole host of complex things, but we can start with some of the laws we pass. The Marine Bill recently, when it came in it was quite nice, a quite strong law, but by the time it got chewed up and spat out again it was a watered down version of what first went in there. We’ve got to stop that. We’ve got to bring to an end these endless meetings, committees, sub-committees, action plans, recovery plans. There’s far too much of this. If my Dad was alive, he’d call it ‘lap wast’, just empty words, leading to meaningless sentences. It’s time for all of that to stop. It is time for action. It is time that we actually did something, that has to translate out into the Welsh countryside. The bird watcher here, the bird organisations here, we should be about bums on eggs. I’m not seeing more skylarks, I’m not seeing more lapwings, I’m not seeing more yellowhammers, I’m not seeing more hay meadows, so something is wrong, something is very, very wrong.
The new organisation we now have, the Countryside Council for Wales, the Environment Agency, the Forestry Commission has now become Natural Resources Wales. Now that’s a name and a half. You could have picked a better name to start with. Resources: that to me is something to be used and abused, something to be exploited. We’ll see if I’m wrong, but I suspect that’s not such a bad name. I am genuinely fed up. It is time for a big, big change.
And can you imagine, can you imagine if you are there with your grand kids and you can turn to them and say ‘Well cariad bach,’ do you know what, it just so happens that ‘cause of something I was involved in, we were able to turn things around and if you go and get your wellies, we’ll go out now. The farmer over the way has got a couple of wet fields and do you know what, he’s got eight pairs of lapwing in there. Let’s go out and let’s have a look at them. Or, you go and get your coat, it’s a lovely day, sun is out. Tell you what we’ll do, we’ll go up the bank there, we’ll lie on our backs and we’ll watch and we’ll listen to all the skylarks as they climb up towards the blue sky and we’ll watch ‘em ‘til they disappear. Or there’s not just one hay meadow around this village now, because of these changes we made, there’s actually six of them, so come on, we’ll go out. We’ll chase the butterflies and you can run your hands through these flowers and maybe we’ll catch a grasshopper.
Can you imagine the look in their eyes, the pride in their eyes when they look at you and you say that? And can you imagine what it’s going to mean to you here? The knowledge that you are an important part, an integral part, of that?
Boys bach, we have to change and we have to change now. I haven’t got a crystal ball. I can’t tell you exactly what’s going to happen, but I do firmly believe if each and every one of you in here, and we’ve had some Assembly members just coming in now. It’s lovely to see you, if each and every one of you when you go into your office, when you sit at your desk, thinks about what your grand children are going to say to you in forty years time. That should drive you on. That should fuel this change.
The paper advises that livestock grazing is essential for the management of many of England’s most important wildlife habitats. Grassland, heathland, wood pasture, floodplain and coastal marshes all require some grazing to maintain the structure and composition upon which a variety of plants and animals depend for their survival. This leaflet examines the different types of grazing land and the issues that affect them.
16 Nov 2012, 5:02 PM
The report at http://envirowatch.eu/Bern%20UK%20Probs%202012.pdf is interesting reading for anyone interested in wildlife in the UK. There is a complete section on the badger culling issue. The report is titled 'European Wildlife Convention: problems in the United Kingdom in 2012. Implementation of the Bern Convention on the Conservation of European Wildlife and Natural Habitats in the United Kingdom'. Details of the author are at http://envirowatch.eu/
The UK has signed up to the Bern Convention. It is a binding international legal instrument in the field of nature conservation, which covers most of the natural heritage of the European continent and extends to some States of Africa. Its aims are to conserve wild flora and fauna and their natural habitats and to promote European co-operation in that field.
At the Conservative Party conference this week the NFU event focused on sustainable farming. Apparently Jim Paice suggested that badgers and bats have far too much protection and a long-term wildlife management strategy is needed to get away from the species by species approach. Bats are a declining species (as with many of our other once common species) so to hear this is very disappointing and shows a clear disregard for wildlife.
Here is an extract - note that Devon is a hot spot for bTB yet this farm remains clear! Maybe the powers that be should concentrate on why such farms remain clear in the midst of areas where badgers are currently being blamed for spreading TB.
"The authors conclude that habitat management appears important to a farm’s bTB risk. ‘Nature friendly’ management practices – the presence of ungrazed wildlife strips, and the greater availability, width and continuity of hedgerow – are all associated with reduced bTB incidence.
They could only speculate on the mechanism through which hedgerows may reduce incidence of bTB, but suggest it could be due to one of two factors. The first is that hedge-rich farms are managed differently – for example they have different crop rotations which reduce the likelihood of cattle eating contaminated grass. The second (and more likely) is that the presence of hedges reduces badger-cattle transmission because a higher proportion of contaminated grass is kept out of the reach of cattle. Badgers preferentially use hedgerows as movement corridors and for their latrines, so where cattle are excluded from these areas by either hedge growth or fences, contact with the bacteria is reduced.
Given the practical difficulties associated with badger culling, and the fact that to be effective it has to be carried out over large areas (because of the perturbation effect), the authors suggest that improving habitat features such as hedgerows and ungrazed wildlife margins might be a more cost effective strategy to reduce infection.
So there you have it. A piece of research I had no idea existed. And the one thing we have on this farm? Exceptional density of hedges…with very few gaps; in fact we have many more hedges now than were present on the 1840 Tithe Map.
Could this be (and I hardly dare think it, let alone say it) a reason why we ‘continue’ (whispered very quietly) to go clear?"
3 Sep 2011, 1:38 PM
Email dated 31/8/11 from beef farmer.
Very grateful indeed for this paper, what a find and a really fascinating study. We have effectively been accused of lying before now when we have mentioned our TB free record so this will be very useful ammunition as the researchers clearly had no trouble finding the required number of control farms who had been free of bTB since 1994. Also the fact that these were 'randomly selected' suggests that they had a choice of far more on top.
Our farm is full of hedgerows and trees with plenty of areas left wild and uncultivated. The land is split into a good number of enclosures so some are grazed while others rest. We move stock around before each area becomes overgrazed and avoid overstocking. We like to keep all stock well fed and calm because stress of any kind is an open door to infections so stock are moved and handled quietly - no roaring round like cowboys. There's also a constant supply of fresh water, powdered minerals, rock salt and liquid molasses.
It's hard to say which, if any, of these management aspects increases our chances of avoiding bTB. Overcrowding in any species is recognised as being a precursor to infections like TB so stocking density should be important although this paper doesn't seem to dwell on this aspect.
Meanwhile, these para's referring to the number of bTB free farms is particularly interesting:
"....Control farms had no breakdowns (confirmed or unconfirmed) since 1994....The two 1000 sq km areas with the highest density of case farms were selected for further study: these were in North Devon and the Herefordshire/Gloucestershire border. Thirty case and 30 control farms were randomly selected from all those present within each study area. To permit the analysis of risk of repeated bTB breakdown events – something not possible with the original dataset because of there having been only 9 repeat breakdown events – additional data on the study farms were obtained for the years 2000-2004 inclusive. Farms with repeated breakdown events were defined as those with more than 1 confirmed breakdown since 1997. Control farms, as previously, were defined as those with no cattle reacting to the tuberculin skin test since 1994. There were 38 farms with repeated breakdowns and 41 controls."
3 Sep 2011, 1:33 PM
Email dated 31/8/11 from RH saying that the paper referred to in the posting abover doesn't mention the high trace minerals in hedgerow species, given an opportunity - cattle love to eat hedges and this wonderful photo is porrof of this!
The associations between habitats and other factors that lead to the risk of bTB in dairy cattle were examined in an unmatched case-control study. It involved 60 herds with recent history of breakdowns plus 60 controls.
The conclusion was that habitat management appeared to be important in reducing bTB incident - the presence of un-grazed wildlife strips and the greater availability, width and continuity of hedges. It acknowledged that further research was needed in this area.
6 Jul 2011, 6:10 PM
The first White Paper on the natural environent (The Natural Environment White Paper, 'The Natural Choice' www.defra.gov.uk/environment/natural/whitepaper) in 20 years was published on 7/6/11. The paper commits the Coalition Government to making the conservation of wildlife and landscape part of national economic planning.
It pledges to reverse years of wildlife and landscape destruction. Despite this it received very little attention in the national media, The plans are directly linked to the paper referred to in the previos posting, National Ecosystem Assessment. It also acts on the recommendations of 'Making Space for Nature, a report into the state of England's wildlife sites published in September 2010. This revealed that our wildlife sites are fragmented and not able to respond to the pressures of climate change and other pressures we put on land.
Launching ‘The Natural Choice’, Environment Secretary Caroline Spelman said: “The natural environment matters to us all – not just because it makes us feel good when we stumble across a bluebell wood or spot a pair of goldfinches, but because we are now all able to see the terrible price we would pay if we lost what we have or neglected to care for it. Nature belongs to us all, and we’ve all got a vested interest in protecting it.
“That’s why the true value of nature should be built in to the decisions we make – as individuals, organisations, businesses and governments – so that we become the first generation to leave the environment in a better condition than we found it. This is what ‘The Natural Choice’ will help us all achieve.”
6 Jun 2011, 7:28 PM
Nature 'is worth billions' to the UK proclaims the headline at www.bbc.co.uk/news/science-environment-13616543
The UK's parks, lakes, forests and wildlife are worth billions of pounds to the economy, according to a major new report (see http://uknea.unep-wcmc.org/).
It advises that the health benefits of merely living close to a green space are worth up to £300 per person per year.
The National Ecosystem Assessment (NEA) says that for decades, the emphasis has been on producing more food and other goods - but this has harmed other parts of nature that generate hidden wealth.
Ministers who commissioned the NEA will use it to re-shape planning policy. Let's hope this includes bTB policy!
25 Aug 2010, 5:04 PM
'Wild About Meadows', is a manifesto for the wildflower meadows of Wales. An initiative supported by Flora Locale (www.floralocale.org) and The Grasslands Trust (www.grasslands-trust.org), it aims to: 1. raise awareness and increase public support for this threatened habitat 2. improve collaboratin between farming and conseravtion groups in Wales for the benefit of wild meadows 3. emphasise the importance of cattle for conservation grazing 4. encourage and support farmers and other landowners to restore and manage their wild meadows.
Grazing by cattle is an essential management aspect. Livestock disease is acknowledged as a threat to wildflower meadows and bovine TB is one of the diseases mentioned. www.wildmeadows.org.uk
15 Jul 2010, 2:33 PM
There are several websites that stress the importance of cattle for conservation grazing. Just some of these are listed below.
In an email from Becky dated 29 June 2010, she reminds us that 2010 is the International Year of Biodiversity. She goes on to say that at a time when the earth's biodiversity is being lost at an alarming rate (as is widely documented in many studies) as a result of climate change and human influence, causing habitat loss as well as the greater use of plant and animal resources, the bovine TB debate is very relevant because cattle have proven to be so useful in encouraging diversity.
In farmland habitats in the UK, population declines have occurred in about half of plants, a third of insects and four-fifths of bird species (Ref. 1). If we continue as we are doing then losses will accelerate. In the UK mixed agriculture has been lost and farms are becoming increasingly specialised. Traditional crop rotation has been abandoned, field sizes increased and field margins/hedgerows have shrunk. Populations of many species living on farmland has declined, (Ref 2). The loss of biodiversity is not just a sentimental concern but, as all species are inter-linked, our existence relies on intact ecosystems.
The latest report, published in June 2010 (Ref 3), describing the state of bird populations in Wales has been published. It draws heavily on data from Bird Atlas 2007-11, BBS, and WeBS and should play a vital role in informing policy-makers and decision-takers about the future direction of conservation in Wales. However, it tells a sorry tale, with 63 species moving to a higher list of conservation concern.
The United Nations has produced reports (Ref 4) on ecosystem value and ways in which governments can work towards greener, more sustainable economies that recognise the value of natural habitats and the species they comprise. It is claimed that the natural world is worth some USD $72 trillion per year, yet 2/3 of our ecosystems are degraded (2010 figure)!
Farmers who practice less intensive farming and who conserve nature need to be rewarded, not penalised.
'You can have an environment without an economy but you can't have an economy without an environment'. (UNEP 2008)
Refs: 1. Post War Changes in arable farming and biodiversity in GB, by RA Robinson and WJ Sutherland, Jurnal of applied ecology 2002 2. Imacts of agricultural change on farmland divesrity in the UK by ND Boatman 2007 3. www.bto2.org/downloads/home/welsh_report/wales-report-en.pdf?utm_source=june&utm_medium=email&utm_campaign=welshreport 4. www.teebweb.org/InformationMaterial/TEEBReports/tabid/1278/language/en-US/Default.aspx
22 Apr 2010, 2:46 PM
The cattle are needed for grazing pastures that are not cut for hay, these are marshy fields, wet or rhos pastures, fen meadows, wet heath, and so on. These flower all summer long with a succession of different flowers- from late May, June, July and August into September. Each of these plants grows and flowers but once in the year, and many grow from rosettes of leaves on the ground. In most the leaves die away completely during the winter as do many of the grasses and rushes. If not grazed by cattle the larger plants grow up and form a dense sward about 18 inches high and shade out the smaller lower plants. Then brambles and trees invade and all the rich biodiversity of the sward vanishes in scrub and then secondary woodland as the flowering plants must have light; the flowers of woodland are different to those in these wet rough meadows. These meadow swards are very stable once the vegetation is established suitable for for the soil, wetness, situation etc (see National Vegetation Classification), and exist for 100s of years. They probably reflect the vegetation that established after the ice age on areas kept open originally by the wild aurochsen cattle, with a contribution from wild ponies and red and roe deer though the latter prefer the woodland. This rich mix of our native plants excludes all the noxious modern agricultural weeds like dock, creeping thistle, nettles. Soft rush forms a balanced contribution kept in check by the other plants such as purple moor grass, sharp flowered rush and compact rush. Rodents, supporting owls and birds of prey, butterfly colonies such as ringlet, meadow brown and the small skipper, and moths such as the 5 spotted burnet moth as well, and if sufficiently open, nesting sites are provided for ground nesting birds such as the meadow pipit (which can support cuckoos) and so on including snipe feeding in the winter.
The cattle are absolutely necessary and irreplaceable as grazers because they graze non-selectively, wrap their tongues round plants and pull them off leaving about 3 inches of vegetation at the base (the rosettes) and remove much of the tall grasses such as purple moors grass and some of the rushes. They create a mosaic of sward heights so favourable to wildlife, they encourage sedges which they love to eat and this stops grass being a predominant and suffocating plant. They don't consume all the flowers or seed heads, and their grazing can be timed to favour devil's bit scabious which flowers in July and August and continues into September to encourage colonies of marsh fritillary butterflies. They also leave the marsh violets for the small pearl bordered fritillary butterflies. Sheep, goats and ponies will selectively eat all the smaller plants they find tasty and denude the meadow of its diverse flowers over several years of grazing during the spring and summer. The heavy footprints of the cattle also provide new seeding sites for the seed that is generated by allowing the plants to spread because they have been allowed to fourish, that is flower and set seed.
In the case of dry or well drained fields that are cut for hay one can graze for a short while before closing the field off, or the aftermath that appears after cutting for hay about 6 weeks after croppping, and in the winter. Animals that graze the sward short, such as sheep and ponies, are particularly useful to put it into a good condition for the growth of hay so that sunlight reaches the ground and encourages the tillering of grasses. However too many deep footprints in wet weather of shod ponies or cattle make the surface rough for cutting hay, so rolling may be needed. Ponies dung needs to be collected from the field otherwise it sours the pasture and encourages heavy growth of creeping buttercups. Also the short grazing during the winter allows birds to forage for cranefly grubs and other food in the sward, so blackbirds, thrushes, starlings, fieldfares and redwings thrive. If the hay field is only lightly manured (certainly no mineral fertiliser) gradually red clovers, bird's foot trefoil, black knapweed, fine grasses, meadow buttercup and plantains, dandelions and hawkbits come as well. Both cattle and sheep find this sward their favourite. The hay is resilient to the weather, it is still palatable and standing even if cut a month late in August.
Traditionally farms in Wales had both types of pasture. The wet pastures would be for cattle in the summer, I start to graze mine in July. Even if it is very hot and dry (should we be so lucky ever again) the pasture is lush and buzzing with insects and life.
The pasture so commonly seen in Wales of huge soft rush clumps hiding the sheep grazing the short cropped grass between the clumps is an artefact of continuous sheep grazing which has removed the majority of plant species once there.
Keeping cattle is the key, or finding someone to graze their native cattle. Dairy cattle and continental cattle do not thirve. Some people also use the introduced buffalo.
Many poeple find it difficult to keep the appropriate cattle. I have done the following things. You can see from the list that most people who bought these lovely fields would find it too much trouble and so they would be lost, and not easily recreated with their full complement of plant speicies many now rare.
1. To provide water if there is not access to a stream. This means a water trough connected to a supply or a water bowser. The provision of shallow muddy pools is not healthy because of fluke and they may dry up in hot weather.
2. I had to sell my 2 continental cows (limousine or charollais cross) as they lost weight on the rough fields in September and October. I have only welsh black cattle now. I can see why people go for smaller cattle such as highland or dexter as they cause less poaching when we have high rainfall in the summer.
3. I have to house my cattle in the winter as the wet fields are far too wet in winter and there is little to eat in them. I would have to feed them bales outside which cannot be from improved fields as the seed from invasive grasses and weeds contaminates the wet fields, and this creates deep rings of poached soil.
4. The plants in the wet fields don't grow sufficiently to provide food for cattle before late May, this applies to the purple moor grass and the other fine native grasses such as velvet bent. I have to find other grazing in early summer for the cattle.
5. I have to have a tractor to carry large bales (a few smaller cattle can be managed with small bales) muck out the cattle and buy in straw. I have equipment for the tractor, front prongs, a front roller bale carrier, a scraper, a mower, a hay bob, a set of jaws to turn the manure and clean out the cattle bedding etc, a bucket, a roller, a muck spreader, a harrow and a trailer.
6. I have a crush so that the cattle can have their TB testing and blood testing for Johne's disease and their horns removed and steers neutered by the vet.
7. The tractor is not designed for a woman, I can't put on any equipment even if I can take a piece off, and the mucking out is too heavy and the handling of cattle needs some experience and strength, so I must employ a man to work on the farm part time. Also I know nothing of maintaining the equipment, ie oiling it, blowing up slow flat tyres and changing tines and so on. It is also difficult to reach cattle on some of the pasture should they require veterinary attention and help is definitely needed.
8. If anyone near me had suitable cattle to graze my fen meadow and wet heath, and they may refuse because it is so rough and boggy, I think it would be right that I should pay them knowing the expense and trouble that goes in keeping cattle.
9. I would find it very difficult to be stuck on standstill because of bovine TB unable to sell my calves, I should have to buy in fodder and could have housing problems in the winter with 2 years worth of calves. My farm is based on a typical upland farm business structure of closed purebred herds of cattle and sheep with the selling of calves and lambs as stores or females for breeding. I keep replacement ewe lambs.
10. I have a commercial operation as far as is possible, as described previously, as I must pay the wages of a man to help me part time and I am afraid that I would not interest anyone in working for me if I simply had grazing steers or wethers. I have been interested to understand what farming is about, what the factors are that affect modern commercial farming and how this differes form the old fashioned sustainable farming methods on ancient and wonderful pastures. I now fully comprehend why they have almost completely disappeared.
The reason sheep are such biodiversity depleting grazers, especially on wet pasture, is that they are able to seek out every plant of the kind they like and nibble it down to the ground so the basal rotsette of leaves is gone. Hence when they graze biodiverse pastures in the summer and over many years, they gradually remove all for example, knapweed, devil's bit scabious, every type of sedge, petty whin, sawort, meadow thistle, orchids and so on. Only plants that can grow again and again during the summer, such as the stolons of white clover and the tillering of grasses, together with plants that the sheep do not care to eat, such as soft rush, tussocks of purple moor grass and mat grass which is silicaceous, in the end survive. Light grazing at timely intervals on dry pasture is not so depleting and in the case of the chalk downs and has enabled diversity to exist in the short cropped pasture. But this is because there is not the tendency for plants the sheep do not eat on dry pasture to out-grow all the other flowering plants and herbs (such as soft rush and mat grass), except there is trouble with invasive brome grass species on some dry downland pastures that the sheep are not able to keep down.
I put some rams on a wet passture one June July when a lot of fencing was being done and observed just that! They prefer flowering plants and sedges to grasses!
There is a little bit of fen meadow opposite my gate owned by 2 different people so entirely neglected, overgrown by willows and grazed only by sheep at any time of the year. I have trepassed in to look for the plants that should be there, and I can hardly move amongst the tussocks of molinia and anything which grows beneath, should it try to, is grazed out so there are hardly any of the plants that should be there at all. It is a curious piece of local history that the fen meadow fields were traded between farmers to pay off cock fighting debts a generation or more ago. They must have had a very low value to the farmers and it is the reason why they have been neglected, but also not ploughed up to be drained, where there is dual ownership. However of many 100s of hectares of fen meadow only a few hectares remain with their unique mix of native plants (M24c in the National Vegetation Classification).