The aim of the Greater Grazing project is to transform the quality of chalk grassland on Martin Down National Nature Reserve. This Reserve is 350 hectares of unspoiled chalk downland (one of the largest sites in the UK) where flowers and insects flourish and rare birds sing. The site is also home to grazing animals and important archaeological features.
The Greater Grazing project aims to transform the quality of chalk grassland at Martin Down NNR. Currently grazed by sheep once a year, the habitats and overall biodiversity would be improved by adding cattle to the site. Cows are larger and heavier, they are less selective about what they eat and they are more efficient in breaking down scrub.
The significant reduction of grazing animals on Martin Down since the 1940s has meant that large amounts of scrub vegetation have taken hold on the site, resulting in the loss of herb rich chalk grassland, which supports an array of pollinators, birds, and other animals. This scrub had also covered many of the archaeological features of the site.
Greater Grazing Project Aims
- To restore the ancient landscapes and biodiversity at Martin Down NNR through practical conservation work and habitat management
- To attract and keep more sheep graziers, as well as attract cattle graziers through the clearance of scrub and the building of infrastructure to support grazing animals.
- To safeguard 350 hectares of chalk grassland and aid 15 key species through im4proved habitat management
- To clear monuments and archaeological features of scrub or trees
- To train volunteers in wildlife survey and collect new data at Martin Down to monitor pollinator levels
- To conduct educational events and improve local awareness of the important habitat of Martin Down National Nature Reserve
Practical Conservation and Habitat Management
Weekly practical seasonal conservation work has been ongoing since 2021 with Chase & Chalke volunteers.
Clearing vegetation ahead of, or behind grazing animals has opened areas of chalk grassland that had been covered in scrub overgrowth. By removing the thorny plants, which had previously colonised the areas, the team has allowed grazing animals to access more to eat, which in turn lets light filter down to the grass, which encourages the herb layer to flourish and provides more nectar sources for insects.
Two species, pasqueflower (Pulsatilla Vulgaris) and Duke if Burgundy butterflies, have been recorded in areas the team have worked.Entry point to Martin Down NNR at Blagdon Gap – Before and after practical conservation work to clear overgrown scrub. Practical volunteers have also lent a hand with the management of grazing stock animals, as well as helping with the temporary netting for sheep enclosures to manage grazing. The team have regular Wednesday practical volunteering days, and during some seasons this increases to include a monthly Saturday session to encourage those who work during the week to come and join the very committed and hardy conservation team. Left – Volunteer team assessing a scrub covered site on Martin Down. Right – The same area after clearance, with sheep now grazing.
Since the start of the Greater Grazing project, cattle are now grazing on Martin Down National Nature Reserve.
In order to graze, cattle require access to large amounts of fresh water to drink. This was one of the main reasons why cattle were not able to graze here. As part of the Greater Grazing project, The Chase & Chalke Landscape Partnership funded the purchase of large water bowsers, which allow the transport of thousands of litres of water to accessible troughs in the paddocks.
Another requirement of managing cattle is the need for certain infrastructure to safely manage these larger animals. A new cattle handling facility was also funded by the Greater Grazing project.New buffer zones were also constructed at exits of cattle grazing areas, which improve the safety standards of managing the animals. The buffer fencing means that cattle are unable to rush a single open gate. The image above depicts the new buffer gate to A354 Lay-by West. Below is the buffer gate at A354 east exit.
Monuments and Historic Features
Invasive scrub clearance has been carried out on several ancient and historic sites with volunteers.
These include Bokerley Dyke, the Ackling Dyke, Grim’s Ditch, 4 barrows (burial mounds), WW1 military sites and a Roman road.
The team asses and start work to clear a Barrow of vegetation. After clearing a barrow or earthwork of vegetation, the form and shape can be clearly seen again in the landscape. Work has included removing well established scrub vegetation from the sites which encourage rabbits to burrow underneath. The team have also been cutting ‘scallops’ in the vegetation. A scallop is a semi-circle or D-shaped area along the edge of a path or ride that has been cleared of trees, allowing herbs and grasses to grow, and creating a varied woodland edge. Volunteers worked together to carry out clearance work on a Bronze Age barrow on Martin Down, carefully removing scrub and vegetation from this Scheduled Monument.
The landscape features different archaeological sites of interest from different time periods. The above image depicts the team sitting atop a Bol Barrow after clearing it of scrub. The need to clear ancient earthworks of scrub is due to the damage that the roots and scrub do to the landscape features over time. The scrub clearance is undertaken in sections, with some sections remaining covered in some vegetation. This improves light penetration to the grasslands covering the earthworks. Also by clearing overgrown scrub, the public are better able to view and access the historic features of this landscape. Bokerley Dyke is a linear earthwork that stretches over 3.6 miles between Woodyates and Martin, and it is a scheduled monument.
It was originally excavated by Pitt Rivers. The site is considered to have been constructed during the late Bronze Age, forming a policatl / cultural boundary between peoples. It was subsequently ‘cut through’ by the Roman’s with their road running between Old Sarum and Badbury Rings in the later 1st Centaury. This Roman Road is called Ackling Dyke.The above photo depicts the before and after scrub clearance at Bokerley Dyke earthwork by project volunteers.
Multiple youth education and experience events have been carried out on the landscape as part of the project in collaboration with Hampshire County Council.
Young Ranger events have taken place with groups learning what role a ranger plays and how the landscape habitats are managed.
Local Scout groups have attended educational sessions at Martin Down with Hampshire County Council Rangers Mike Fussell and Theo Derwinksi.
The above picture shows Farleigh School, Geography visit to Martin Down National Nature Reserve with 64 children and teachers learning about the landscape, wildlife, and area as part of the Greater Grazing project. School visits have also taken place, where students have learnt how to survey transects, about what plants live on Martin Down, and various landscape and environmental issues.
Volunteer Training and Wildlife Surveys
From April 2022, Pollinator walk training has been carried out with members of the public.
Volunteers have carried out monthly visits to the site and performed surveys on 5m wide transects allocated by Hampshire County Council rangers. These surveys record pollinator insects, and the flowers on which they are nectaring.
Volunteer survey records are collected, analysed, and then submitted to the Hampshire Biological Record Centre. This data helps us understand trends in pollinator activity and the biodiversity of the area.Volunteers also attended training days learning about common flowers and plants that make the calcareous grasslands of Martin Down National Nature Reserve their home. If the habitats have been improved, there will be an upwards trend in abundance or richness of pollinator and plant groups over time.
Combining the surveys with the practical conservation work of our volunteers means that we will be able to see if the work has improved the habitats on Martin Down NNR.
Dew Pond at Kitts Grave
Chase & Chalke practical conservation volunteers worked to restore an old dew pond at Kitts Grave.
The site was dry and surrounded by strong gorse and almost completely inaccessible. The pond needed to be opened up to provide access to drinking water for wildlife, such as Turtle Doves, and grazing cattle.
The image above shows the pond before the work. Dry and surrounded by gorse making it inaccessible. Right – The site has been excavated. With the work of volunteers, the pond site was excavated, and reshaped. Liner was laid in the space, as well as geotextile protection, and then 400mm of subsoil to hold it down and protect it. The pond started to immediately hold rainwater overnight. The area around the pond site was also cleared of scrub, and scalloped, to create an open area of chalk grassland.
Left – The pond is lined. Right – The pond site several weeks later, filled with rainwater, and surrounding scrub cleared. The pond site was fenced by a contractor, however it is still accessible to animals. The shallow sides of this pond allow a variety of wildlife to access water – especially a variety of birds who struggle with steep sided troughs and rivers.The Dew pond with cattle some time after completion, which now supplies a cow-operated tap so that they can drink. The pond is protected by the fence, which keeps the water clear of grazing animals and waste, keeping the water clean.
Collaboration with PlantLife
In 2021 the Chase & Chalke team worked with PlantLife members to create a habitat near one of the car parks on Martin Down for Juniper plants.
This was part of their ‘Saving Juniper’ project. Soil taken from an adjacent area was placed on a scrub cleared piece of land, and juniper seeds planted in the new space. This project came about as Juniper plants have declined over the last 60 years, so this project seeks to revitalise the populations in Wiltshire and Oxfordshire, supporting birds such as Goldcrest, Fieldfare, and Song Thrush.
Project Partners and Delivery
The Greater Grazing project is being delivered in partnership with Hampshire County Council, with collaboration with the team at Natural England.
We’re looking for volunteers to help us with practical conservation management, like scrub clearing, surveying or monitoring – such as conducting butterfly surveys or observing what the cattle are eating. There are opportunities to come to guided walks, to take part in stargazing events, or simply to visit this extraordinary and precious landscape, and find out for yourself why it’s so special.
To get involved please contact our Ranger and Volunteer Co-ordinator Roland Hughes.