Charlotte Rose, Natural England Team Leader for Dorset, shares with us the exciting Urban Heaths Partnership Project, which Natural England are part of.

Negotiations between Natural England (NE) and partners began in 2006/2007 to look at how the new Environmental Stewardship Scheme – Higher Level Stewardship (HLS) could be used to enhance the positive management of the heaths and other important habitats around the conurbations of east Dorset. It drew together a wide range of partner organisations, including the RSPB, as well as a number of privately owned sites, the management of which is delivered through the Partnership.

The partnership really got going in February 2008, when all the partners’ Higher Level Stewardship agreements started (excluding NE and RSPB). The total value of these HLS agreements is £4,584,265.48, and together they cover approximately 1784 hectares of land designated as Sites of Special Scientific Interest (SSSI), approximately 1611 hectares of land deemed Special Areas of Conservation/ Special Protection Areas, and approximately 802 hectares of Ramsar sites - Wetlands of International Importance.

Grazing is delivered by a mixture of stock including: rare breed cattle, Shetland cattle, British whites and belted Galloways, rare breed ponies (Exmoor Ponies), and rare breed sheep (Shetland sheep). These are owned by BBC, which is managed by the Dorset Urban Heath Grazing Partnership's Grazing Manager (~787ha) and stock owned by conservation graziers (~171ha).

Photo British Whites on Upton Heath

The Grazing Manager's role is funded by contributions from the partners and then employed by the RSPB who also provide administrative support to the Partnership. The partners have also contributed funds to purchase much of the equipment required to manage these sites, again ensuring that they are looked after into the future.

The Partnership is proving to be a great platform to trial innovative ways of working. Grazing trials are now underway to assess the suitability of goats for grazing management on heathlands, possibly returning even more land to favourable conditions for wildlife.

Photo Shetland Cattle on Upton Heath

Engagement with the public has been one of the central themes to the Partnership, and events have included ‘meet and greet the cattle’ days for dog walkers, and organising local groups to help educate the public as to the importance of managing these sites.

In addition, the Partnership is working with local universities and other grazing partnerships to further the understanding of heathland and priority habitat management. This included a seminar hosted by the Partnership in 2014, called Towards Best Practice in Conservation Grazing.     

As a result, approximately 958 hectares are now grazed, securing long-term, sustainable management for both wildlife and local communities to enjoy.

Photo Belties Hurn

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