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Integrating foraging attributes of domestic livestock breeds into sustainable systems for grassland biodiversity and wider countryside benefit

The purpose of this project is to identify sustainable grazing management practices for maintaining and enhancing biodiverse grasslands. The effects of the management system (targeted at production or at biodiversity) and animal breed (commercial or rustic) on the botanical, structural and invertebrate biodiversity will be quantified and the socio-economic costs and benefits evaluated. The results will allow improved recommendations for the integrated management of biodiverse grasslands.

Integrated investigations in five countries will comprise the following objectives: 1) the compilation of a web-resident European database of research relevant to the management of biodiverse grasslands
2) the comparison of animal foraging behaviour
3) the comparison of agronomic output
4) the comparison of botanical and structural biodiversity
5) the comparison of invertebrate biodiversity
6) a socio-economic evaluation.

The main mechanisms by which grazing animals affect biodiversity is the creation and maintenance of sward structural heterogeneity, particularly as a result of dietary choice.
Lack of understanding of the currencies used by animals in their foraging decisions and the spatial scale of these decisions are major constraints to better management.
There are important differencees between animal species in their impact on grazed communities and these can be related to differences in dental and digestive anatomy but more importantly to differences in body size.
Differences between breeds within species appear to be relatively minor and again largely related to body size.
There is an urgent need to understand the genetic basis of these differences and also to separate true breed effects from effects of rearing environment.
There is a need for more research integrating economic outcomes with biodiversity outcomes.
At the UK, French, German and Italian sites, animals preferentially selected short vegetation but degree of preference did not differ between treatments
At these sites animals also preferentially included non-grass species in their diet
At the Spanish site local goats selectrively browsed tall heath species while cashmere goats selectively avoided them.
Herbage mass on offer was lower at higher stocking rate but similar for the two breed treatments.
Individual animal performance was similar across treatments.
At higher stocking rates there were more animal grazing days with little difference between breeds.
Output/ha was higher at higher stocking rate but there were no differences in output/ha between breeds.
In Spain local goats lost more weight than cashmeres (-30kg vs -1kg) and this effect increased over the years as the local goats removed their preferred tall heath vegetation.
As expected over such a short time scale the number of species/m2 changed little over the three years of the experiment
In general, percentage of grasses increased and percentage of legumes decreased. The effect was greater at lenient stocking rate and at site (D, UK) with high intitial grass cover
At the Spanish site local goats reduced frequency of shrubs (particularyly tall heaths) much more than cashmere goats. High stocking rate with cashmeres reduced shrubs more than the low stocking rate.
The size of patches of different vegetation types was little affected by treatment, except at the grass dominant UK site where patches were generally larger and high stocking rate led to smaller patch size.
Species richness and abundance of butterflies and grasshoppers were enhanced by lenient stocking rate.
Most ground dwelling arthropod groups showed only small and inconsistent responses to stocking rate.
There was little effect of breed on invertebrate diversity.
In Spain neither stocking rate or breed affected invertebrate diversity.
Farmers identified both positive and negative implications of reducing stocking rate or using traditional breeds.
Not all of these perceptions are supported by objective studies but could nevertheless affect uptake of agri-environment schemes.
Most farmers would be prepared to reduce stocking rate if suitably compensated under an agri-environment scheme but most would not be prepared to use traditional breeds.
Net margins were lower for lenient stocking rate than high stocking rate.
Breed effects on net margins were generally smaller than those on stocking rate and dependent on market conditions in each country.
Without subsidies all systems had a very small or negative net margin. The effect of withdrawing subsidies was greater for the moderate stocking rate than the lenient stocking rate leading to a reversal in ranking.


Scientist responsible for the project

North Wyke
Ex20 2SB Okehampton
United Kingdom (The) - GB

Phone: +44 1837 883548
Fax: +44 1837 82139


Project ID QLRT-1999-30130
Organisation Institute of Grassland and Environmental Research
Area 5.1.1
Start date 01 September 2001
Duration (months) 48
Total cost 2 055 106 €
Total EC contribution   1 366 425 €
Status Completed
Web address of the project

The partners

  • Institute of Grassland and Environmental Research, United Kingdom (The) - GB
  • Centro de Investigacion Aplicada y Tecnologia Agroalimentaria, Spain - ES
  • Cheltenham and Gloucester College of Higher Education, United Kingdom (The) - GB

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