On our moorlands and in our woodlands, domesticated and wild herbivores, including sheep, cattle, deer and feral goats are widespread. As well as being central to the land management economy, they are also part of the National Park’s cultural and natural heritage. Unsustainable levels of wild and domesticated grazing animals in upland and woodland areas can however lead to loss of species in the ground flora, simplified woodland structure without shrubs or climbing species, reduced tree cover and the erosion of soils, which are important carbon stores.
The condition of habitats outside of upland Designated Sites is largely unknown and SNH has been working with Deer Management Groups to collect data to assess the level of herbivore impacts on habitats, such as dwarf shrub heath and blanket bog.
There are 37 out of a total of 67 sites (some of them overlapping, i.e. SSSIs and SACs) where the designated features are under pressure from over grazing. But there are also five sites where designated features are under-grazed proving that this is a complex issue that needs careful collaborative management.
The Native Woodland Survey of Scotland (NWSS) published in 2014 identified the level of herbivore impacts within native woodlands. A low or medium level of herbivore impact is natural and required for sustainable woodland ecosystems and a low level of impact indicates natural regeneration is unlikely to be inhibited by herbivores and in general this is the ideal level of optimum long-term woodland condition.
Within the National Park there are 5,787 ha (NWSS 2014) of native woodland of which 5,063 ha has some herbivore impacts recorded. In the table below, the level of impacts recorded in the National Park is compared with the national (Scottish) average.
|Herbivore Impact Category||National Park||Scotland|
A sustainable woodland ecosystem requires herbivore impacts to be in the low and medium categories; the national average is 67% in these two categories. The woodlands within in the National Park fall below this average at 63% demonstrating a higher level of unsustainable grazing compared to the national level.