Proposed Conservation Grazing on Cleadon Hills Local Nature Reserve
Proposed Grazing Scheme
Cleadon Hills Local Nature Reserve is a popular site used by many people. Grazing would bring many benefits to the site, but there are a number of issues which currently present a barrier to this type of management.
In December 2011 the Countryside Team asked site users for their views on the proposed grazing scheme. The overriding concern raised was the potential risk to any grazing animals on Cleadon Hills LNR from people and dogs. Those commenting outlined various types of anti-social activity taking place in the area including unauthorised use of motorbikes, drinking, lamping and shooting to name but a few, and site users felt that the welfare of the ponies could be compromised by such activities. Many also felt ponies would be at risk from dogs that are walked in the area. In addition a few expressed a view that they enjoyed allowing their dogs to run freely off the lead and socialise with others, and they did not want this freedom curbed by having to keep dogs under closer control to avoid encounters with grazing livestock. However, most people supported the principle of conservation grazing, and stated that it would be lovely to see Exmoors grazing the reserve but felt that this was the wrong site for the reasons outlined above.
A number of people expressed strong support for conservation grazing on the site, pointed out that it worked very well on similar sites in other authorities and that Exmoor Ponies would be an asset to the site.
Having carefully considered all the views expressed, it has been decided to put the proposed grazing scheme on hold. The next steps for the Countryside Team is to tackle some of the problems and issues that have been brought to our attention. All of the site boundaries have been inspected and areas where there are gaps in the fences, broken fencing or places where motorbikes could access have been identified. These will be repaired, replaced or altered before the end of March 2012. We will work closely with local members, the police and community wardens to monitor anti-social and illegal activities on the site and take steps to reduce this where possible.
We are also appealing to site users and the local community to do their bit. If you see someone committing an offence on the site - this would include activities such as carrying any kind of gun or air rifle, hunting with dogs, riding a motorised vehicle, taking drugs etc - please call the police as soon as it is safe to do so. If you see anti-social behaviour on the site such as drinking, intimidating other site users etc, then please call the Community Wardens on 0191 420 3713. If there is a problem with the bins on site, any fly tipping or a large amount of litter, please call our Blitz-It team on 0191 427 7000. For any other issues on site, please contact the Countryside Team.
Phone: 0191 424 7423
Write to: Countryside, Town Hall & Civic Offices, Westoe Road, South Shields, Tyne & Wear, NE33 2RL
Cleadon Hills Local Nature Reserve (LNR) is a council owned site managed by the Countryside Team and situated just north east of Cleadon Village. It is approximately 10 hectares in size and is designated as a Site of Special Scientific Interest (SSSI) for its magnesian limestone grassland and flowers. The council have a statutory duty to manage the site to maintain the floral diversity. Currently this is achieved by a local farmer taking a haycut from approximately 50% of the site in the summer. A further 40% of the site is cut and raked off by a specialist contractor in the autumn.
The most effective management for the site would be to introduce a conservation grazing scheme on the reserve to replace the autumn cut and rake off. Conservation grazing is using small numbers of, often rare breed, livestock to graze the site in place of cutting and raking. Grazing is a more effective site management option than cutting because it produces a more diverse result that has greater benefits for invertebrates, ground nesting birds and floral diversity. Historically, Cleadon Hills LNR was grazed by animals and this is considered to be the best management option by conservation experts.
What would it involve?
If conservation grazing is introduced, grazing animals would only be present on the site for part of the year. It has been proposed that initially Exmoor ponies would be the most suitable type of animal to use, due to the high public usage of the site. Exmoor ponies are shy of people and would quietly move away from site users. Financially, the cost of grazing the site each year would be approximately one third of the current costs of cutting and raking off, making this a more financially sustainable way to manage the site.
Why use Exmoor ponies?
Exmoor ponies are brilliant at conservation grazing. They are very hardy with an ability to thrive in all sorts of habitats from high moorland to bogs. They are selective grazers with great teeth, and whilst they like the sweet young grass, they will also tackle gorse, purple moor grass, soft rush brambles and thistles with gusto; whilst trampling bracken and opening up the sward with their small sharp feet. They are not afraid of dogs so are suitable for sites with public access. Young semi-handled ponies are used to graze larger areas with public access, such as Cleadon Hills LNR, these ponies don't bother people but move quietly away. Exmoor ponies are a threatened rare breed. By using them in conservation grazing schemes we would also be helping to conserve this unusual and attractive animal.
Would I still be able to walk my dog on Cleadon Hills LNR?
Yes. Dog walkers would still be very welcome to use Cleadon Hills LNR. However, you would need to ensure your dog is under close control. The ponies are not afraid of dogs, but they are shy and generally stay out of the way of site users. If your dog approaches and 'bothers' the ponies, it is at risk of being repelled in self defence. The responsibility of keeping a dog under control lies firmly with the owner.
Would the animals be there all year?
No. Initially a small number of animals would be present in the winter months only. Thereafter, the grazing regime may be amended according to need, but will only ever involve small numbers of animals suitable for this particular site and for part of the year only.
Would it involve any changes to the site?
Yes. We would need to put the necessary infrastructure in place to make the site suitable for grazing animals. This would involve installing a water supply, creating a holding pen, putting kissing gates around some of the access points and increasing the height or strength of the site's boundaries in places.
Has conservation grazing been used anywhere else in the region?
Yes. Both Gateshead and Sunderland Councils have run similar schemes for many years at sites such as Hetton Bogs and Lamesley Pastures. These have proved to be beneficial to wildlife and popular with the public.
Can I get involved in any way?
Yes. If the scheme is successfully implemented we will need people to keep an eye out for the animals to ensure that they are in good health. Volunteer 'lookers' will be recruited and supported to enable them to do this important and rewarding job.
For more information on conservation grazing in the region visit the Flexigraze website
Find out more about Exmoor ponies.
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