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Abstract

The effects of sheep grazing on the development and production of heather swards were studied over a period of 3 years in an experiment in which sheep numbers were adjusted to remove 0, 40% or 80% by weight of the current season's shoots in summer and in autumn.

The number of shoots grazed increased with the level of grazing but not in direct proportion. The length of shoot grazed was greater at the 80% level of grazing. Heavy autumn grazing was associated with frequent uprooting and breaking off of shoots and with a high incidence of shoots grazed down to the previous season's wood. The siting of new season's shoots was influenced by the amount of shoot length grazed in the previous season. Grazing behaviour of sheep within a plot was affected by variation in heather cover with the sheep showing a tendency to graze near bare areas.

After 3 years of grazing, standing crop was reduced by both levels of grazing whether in summer or autumn. New shoot production was unaffected on plots which had had the 40% level of shoot removal but was reduced by half on plots which had had the 80% level of shoot removal whether in summer or autumn.

A clipping experiment was also carried out where 0, 40% or 80% of the length of current shoots was removed in May, early July and Septeinber. Standing crop was unaffected by May clipping but was reduced on plants with a history of 80% shoot removal in July or September. New shoot production was only reduced on clipped plants which had been subjected to 80% removal in September.

The role of overwintering green shoots and carbohydrate reserves in the support of new shoot growth was considered.

The implications of the results in relation to heather management are discussed.