Research proofs livestock can help reforestation process
In England, the government plans to increase tree planting to 30 000 hectares per year, spending £500 million between 2020 and 2025 to reach this goal.
But research conducted in oak forests on Dartmoor in Dorset found very few saplings survived on the grazed uplands, and those that did were stunted and unlikely to live beyond eight years old without extra protection.
In landscapes thick with bracken, the plants can protect sprouting oaks because they are toxic to livestock, but also undermine survival because the saplings are forced to compete for light. Cattle or ponies browsing in these areas can trample down the ferns, helping to support the conditions for temperate rainforests to self-seed, a study by ecologists at the University of Plymouth found.
It revealed livestock grazing, particularly by cattle, at the edges of oak woodland can reduce dense and competitive vegetation and allow the forest to naturally expand.
Where saplings of between one and three years have successfully established, livestock should be excluded for at least 12 years to increase survival, the study’s authors said.
In degraded landscapes that need to rapidly increase tree cover, such as upland valley slopes, they recommended land managers be encouraged to implement a specific grazing strategy.