What would hap­pen if sheep stopped graz­ing our hill­sides?

BBC Wildlife Magazine - - Q&A - Chris­tian Dunn

AMuch of the UK’s up­land ar­eas are grazed by sheep owned by hill farm­ers. Stop­ping or al­ter­ing this prac­tice of­ten forms part of the call for the ‘rewil­d­ing’ of our land­scapes.

Po­lit­i­cal and so­cial de­bates aside, it’s clear that re­mov­ing sheep from our hills and moun­tains would have strik­ing ef­fects on lo­cal plants and wildlife. Sheep are se­lec­tive graz­ers and bite close to the ground, so their ab­sence would al­low taller plants, grasses and shrubs to quickly break through. Some species of tree could even start to dom­i­nate as their saplings could grow to ma­tu­rity. Such new ecosys­tems would bring with them a host of an­i­mals and birds that cur­rently don’t have the re­sources they need to sur­vive on the up­land land­scape.

The process would cer­tainly not be uni­ver­sal, how­ever. A range of other fac­tors would also come into play, such as lo­ca­tion, soil type and con­di­tion – even cli­mate change.

Sheep are part of the ru­ral land­scape in much of the UK.

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