Mixed grazing has remained the
principle annual management method over the majority of the open
fen habitat, with only sections of the core saw sedge beds remaining on a 4
year cutting rotation. The restoration grazing has very visibly
had a number of benefits on the structure of the fen swards. konik
ponies, cattle and Hebridean sheep are all used to manage
the fen vegetation.
The Trust's own flock of Hebridean sheep graze the
drier margins of the fen. These sheep are tough, lightweight and
thrifty, browsing on young, woody scrub in addition to grazing.
We have had few welfare issues with this breed.
Sponsor a sheep
Cattle belonging to a local farmer are
also being used to graze the fen. Traditional beef cows with a sensible
temperament are best suited as they can progressively put on a good body
of muscle and fat before being turned off in late autumn or early
winter for market.
herd of konik ponies are at home on the fen throughout the year
and graze the rough, woody fen plants. They are quite happy to
wade up to their bellies in water, and so graze some of the deeper
areas of the fen.
The pony grazing programme has proved a great success
and some of the herd now work at the Trust's Hen Reedbeds reserve.
We have also sold some of our animals to the RSPB, to work at Minsmere
bird reserve. The Broads National Park acquired some Dutch koniks
and have piloted an extensive grazing scheme for the Broads fens.
The same type of pony can also be seen at National Trust's Wicken
Fen. A new Fen Grazing Tier was introduced by MAFF (now DEFRA)
into the Broads ESA scheme a few years ago, inspired by our success
and the National Park experiments.
Sponsor the pony herd
The Hebridean sheep have been used to limit the
re-encroachment of scrub on the higher ground within the reserve,
typically the areas of acid grassland, and wet and dry heath.
They have actively checked birch, oak and sallow species, and
held back bramble regrowth after mechanical flailing.
Patterns of vegetation structure have increasingly
tended toward a true mosaic of vegetation types through the
pony and cattle grazing regime. Each year, the progressive
reduction of invasive reed within the mixed fen vegetation has
been encouraging, overshading of the shorter fen sedges and herbs
has been subsequently reduced, along with a reduced litter layer.
The fen now comprises distinct areas of open aquatic-phase fen,
tall herb fen, saw sedge beds, mixed fen, fen meadows, wet and
dry heath and acid grassland. Supplementary mechanical cutting
has concentrated on higher ground with shallower peat soils where
soft and hard rushes have predominated, following earlier scrub
clearance and soil disturbance.
During the winter months, both cattle and ponies
forage for more succulent, sugary foods in the absence of palatable
green vegetation above ground. Reed rhizomes are consumed avidly,
and can be a useful controlling strategy for this species. However,
saw sedge rhizomes and basal stems also become target fodder at
this time of year if little else is available, and if left unchecked,
could result in an appreciable loss in density and area of the
important sedge bed habitat. Each year, the ponies and cattle
have typically been run on the fen between late April and December,
avoiding the wettest and most barren winter months.
about the koniks
our konik herd