Impacts of grazing on lowland heathland in north-west Europe
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Journal: Biological Conservation
Lowland heathland habitats are recognized to be of high conservation value throughout north-west Europe. Current management approaches focus on arresting natural succession to woodland, and include the use of vegetation cutting, burning and grazing by livestock. However, the introduction of grazing has proved controversial, highlighting the need for evidence regarding its effectiveness. A systematic review of the scientific literature was therefore performed, which identified 13 studies with appropriate comparators (such as untreated controls). Meta-analysis of these data indicated that grazing can result in an increase in the ratio of grassland to ericoid shrub cover, but insufficient experimental evidence was available to assess the effectiveness of any other intervention, indicating a lack of replicated studies with controls. Two forms of expert knowledge were also compiled, based on information in the scientific literature excluded from the meta-analysis, and questionnaire responses of heathland managers. While these two evidence sources were generally in close correspondence, beliefs of heathland managers contradicted the scientific literature with respect to the impact of grazing on the ratio of grassland to ericoid shrubs. Incorporating a range of evidence sources in systematic reviews can therefore provide insights into contradictions in the evidence base. While a large majority of practitioners (94%) believe that grazing is an effective management option for lowland heath, evidence for a number of negative impacts on habitat attributes was recorded, highlighting the need for improved monitoring and experimental analysis of the effectiveness of management interventions. © 2008 Elsevier Ltd. All rights reserved.