Since the lock down life for all of us has changed dramatically but life on the reserve continues and my day to day job although now limited does still have some essential work. Around now it would usually be the start of my survey and monitoring season, this has all been cancelled for the year, however as I live on site I am able to keep an eye on how the wildlife on the reserve is doing as I carry out my essential work or on my daily exercise.
My main responsibility at the moment is for the welfare of our grazing animals, which are made up of approximately 160 sheep and a herd of 10 cattle, which at the moment are divided between 3 areas they are all conservation grazers and are an essential tool for creating and maintaining suitable habitat for a whole host of species and overall biodiversity. They are key to our pasture management for our chough population creating the right grass length while at the same time keeping the soil healthy and full of soil invertebrates, which make up most of the diet of chough especially during their breeding season, and with grazing animals comes plenty of dung! Again an important part as dung beetle larvae are also an important part of their diet.
On the heath its more about the overall biodiversity, and is grazed by our sheep which are close shepherded by our 2 shepherds between August and February. The majority of our flock are hebridean sheep which are fantastic conservation grazers as they readily eat the heather and are a hardy primitive breed. By them opening up areas within the heath this allows light to reach the ground and the seeds of maritime flowers are activated after laying dormant under the enclosed canopy. This works side by side with our cutting and burning of small patches of heath each winter, the bare ground created by this and the regenerating heather are grazed lightly by the sheep maintaining areas of bare ground which is a key part of the overall health of the heath essential for flowering plants benefiting invertebrates, reptiles and small mammals as well as birds. One species in particular which benefits from this is the silver studded blue butterfly which I will talk about in detail in my next blog. Stay safe everyone and hope you are able to embrace nature in some way during this difficult time in all our lives.
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