Cows, sheep and ponies will be moving in to Chailey Commons as part of a project to protect the nationally rare heathland by removing invasive plants through grazing.
From 9 October a local farmer, who also has Commoner's rights will be using around 80 hardy Hebridean sheep and a small group of Sussex cattle to graze Memorial, Pound and Romany Ridge Commons. The cattle and some of the sheep will be wearing fluorescent collars to aid visibility for motorists. They will have access to North Common and Beggar's Wood Roads, but their movement will be controlled by cattle grids. They will remain on the Commons as long as the weather conditions are suitable and enough food is available for them
From the end of October, they will be joined by 10 Exmoor ponies owned by the Sussex Pony Grazing and Conservation Trust. The ponies will graze on Red House Common throughout the winter until March and will help to control scrub and gorse.
Grazing will help to fulfil Higher Level Stewardship objectives on the Common by helping to reduce scrub invasion and open up the Commons to recreational users on this important heathland site.
Chailey Common is one of the largest open heathlands remaining in Sussex. It is privately owned and managed by a management committee under an agreement between the County Council, Lewes District Council and the landowners.
The Chailey Grazing Project began in January 2011 and involved putting up fences around the five commons to allow sustainable management through grazing whilst ensuring continued public access. It received the majority of its funding from Natural England via the Countryside and Higher Level Stewardship Schemes.
Lowland heathland is one of the most threatened habitats in Europe and the UK has a significant proportion – 20% of the world total. Since 1800, more than 80% of lowland heathlands in the UK have been lost, largely due to the impacts of agricultural reclamation, afforestation and building development.
Free-ranging livestock had not been grazed on the Common for many years, partly due to the lack of fencing, and some parts had been rendered inaccessible by invasive trees and plants such as silver birch, bracken and gorse.
In June this year, grazing animals were introduced to Lane End Common when six cows were moved in. They did an excellent job of eating down invasive grasses and scrub and have now moved to Ebernoe Common In West Sussex. Some of these cows may return over the Winter.