CONSERVATIONISTS ARE having to reintroduce grazing livestock in some parts of the country to help arrest a decline in wildlife species caused by encroaching scrub.

The Sussex Downs Conservation Board has said it is reintroducing cattle to one of its nature reserves to restore the grassland habitat.

Cattle are to return to Seaford Head in a bid to restore the East Sussex Local Nature Reserve (LNR) to a rich chalk grassland habitat.

The future of the reserve has been under threat from an overgrowth of scrub and coarse vegetation that has triggered a decline in rare chalk grassland flowers and insects.

The move reinforces the importance of grazing livestock to the countryside – a message that farmers have been trying to get across to politicians, environmentalists and the public.

It coincides with a report commissioned by the Exmoor Society that warns CAP reform could have big implications for the appearance of moorlands in the south-west.

The report, called Moorlands at a Crossroads and written by Bristol-based Land Use consultants, warns that if farmers move away from livestock because of the reforms, the hills of Exmoor would start to look very different.

“The skills and knowledge of moorland farmers, honed through generations of managing the lands, are crucial to the future of the moorlands,” it says.

Simon McHugh, ranger with Sussex Downs Conservation Board, said historically the Seaford Head area was grazed by sheep and cattle, which had created the diverse habitat.

“Grazing Seaford Head is the most effective way of ensuring the long-term conservation of this internationally important habitat as well as preserving the amenity value for visitors.”

The cattle will graze the reserve for two months in spring and autumn.

The scheme will include fencing improvements, restoration of cattle grids and new access points for visitors.

Livestock have also been reintroduced to land in another area of Kent because undergrazing has led to a scrub problem.

English Nature has directed money from its Sheep and Wildlife Enhancement Scheme so sheep can be reintroduced in parts of the Folkestone Warren Site of Special Scientific Interest.

Part of the 2003 SWES budget was allocated to this project because after decades of abandonment, scrub had blanketed much of the land at the expense of rare species-rich chalk grassland.