Ashdown Forest has a long history of being grazed, from early man to centuries of local small holdings (Commoners) turning out stock in the summer and cutting bracken and heather for winter bedding. Sadly, grazing by commoners rapidly declined after the Second World War resulting in parts of the Forest developing into scrub and woodland.
Today, there are two types of grazing undertaken on Ashdown Forest: Commoner Grazing and Conservator-owned Grazing.
A Commoner who has the Rights of Pasturage is allowed to graze livestock on the Forest within numbers agreed with the Conservators. An area of 540ha is fenced in the south of the Forest and grazed by Commoners.
Conservator Herd – Why Do We Graze?
The Conservators’ conservation graze other areas of the Forest. This is hugely important in maintaining and improving the heathland habitat and its rare and special wildlife. Grazing is a natural and sensitive way of managing heathland. It complements techniques like burning and cutting and has the additional benefit that the animals are able to access areas which machinery can’t. The natural grazing behaviours of certain livestock assist in supressing the growth of scrub and trees maintaining an open habitat, whilst simultaneously creating differing structures in the vegetation thus allowing a greater variety of biodiversity to establish and thrive.
How do we Graze?
The Conservators own herds of Hebridean Sheep, Riggit Galloway Cattle and Exmoor ponies. The Ashdown Forest Act 1974 permits us to enclose an additional 50ha (on top of the 540ha in the South Chase) at any one time, which we use to graze different areas of the Forest. This fencing is moved from year to year to enable us to appropriately manage particular areas.
These ancient ‘rare breeds’ are a hardy species that have adapted to survive in difficult conditions in all weathers and on nutrient poor vegetation. We use them to graze the Forest in the summer months as they are particularly good at feeding on birch, coarse grasses and young gorse.
Riggit Galloway Cattle
Another hardy, ‘rare breed’, which is an ancient variety of the Galloway breed. Cattle are excellent at grazing our wetter habitats and controlling the coarse grasses. They also are great at trampling the bracken and breaking up dense vegetation, improving the structure and allowing species like Nightjar to thrive.
Exmoor Ponies are a native breed to Britain and are able to graze the Forest in both winter and summer. They are great at tackling coarse grasses like Molinia, and will also feed on gorse, bramble and even young shrubs. Like the cattle, they can also help break up bracken and dense vegetation by trampling. Although these are attractive ponies, they are not truly domesticated and do not like being handled.
With all our livestock, we please ask that you do not feed them as this can lead to digestive and health problems and we ask that dogs are kept out of the enclosures to protect both livestock and the dogs.