Royal Agricultural University research into cooperative grazing

The RAU have recently undertaken some research for the Cotswolds Conservation Board to assess the feasibility of a cooperative grazing approach in the Cotswolds Scarp and High Wold areas. The appropriate management of grassland is essential for the formation and maintenance of important habitats, as well as for the preservation of productive capacity and cultural heritage.

Cotswolds Area of Outstanding National Beauty (AONB) provides a number of conservation and biodiversity benefits but this can be threatened by changes in grassland management and habitat fragmentation.

The project was led by Dr Rhiannon Fisher, Lecturer in Rural Land Use and Management, in partnership with the Countryside and Community Research Institute and with Graduate Trainee in Consultancy, Alice Hamilton-Webb as a Research Assistant. It involved 28 telephone interviews with landowners and graziers to assess current nature of the grassland, management strategies, and to establish various socioeconomic factors associated with grazing across boundaries.

In order to develop a proposal for a pilot cooperative grazing scheme, a focus group was held and attended by some of the farmers. This was in order to further discuss views on grazing in the Cotswolds, and gain feedback and recommendations in relation to whether a business case can be made. The RAU recommended the implementation of a pilot scheme to establish uptake of recommended proposals among landowners and graziers, promoting the potential for the land value to be increased through better management. The approach could sustain the grazing of land, increase habitat connectivity and contribute to the capacity of England’s wildlife to cope with impacts of climate change through movement within their climate envelope.