Uncontrolled or excessive grazing can have a range of negative impacts on native ecosystems, ranging from damage to plants to increased soil erosion. This can be avoided by implementing sustainable grazing regimes on private land. GER works with landholders to manage grazing in a way that maintains, or even improves, biodiversity on properties.
In the same way that different land types have their own capability for supporting agricultural production, different vegetation types have varying levels of tolerance for grazing. A sustainable grazing regime is one that is able to maintain a natural diversity of species, with the resilience to respond to, and recover from, climatic variations. Factors that need to be considered when developing an appropriate grazing regime include:
- Timing – The time of year in which grazing occurs will affect factors such as the growth, development, and seed set of plants. Carefully timed grazing can be used to target and reduce invasive species, and to expose the seed bed, enabling native species to regenerate.
- Stocking rate and duration – The number of stock on an area, and/or the length of time that stock are left in any one area, affects the amount of plant material removed, as well as the potential for other effects to accrue.
- Total grazing pressure – Feral herbivores that are present in large numbers add to the overall effects of grazing by stock and native animals. This reduces the amount of managed grazing that is sustainable in an area. The need for ongoing management of feral herbivores is an important factor that needs to be considered, regardless of the level of managed grazing that is intended.
- Type of stock – Grazing by different animals has different effects on the environment. For example, sheep are more selective in their grazing and sever plants closer to the ground than cattle. Sheep are therefore more likely to deplete vital ground cover and cause the loss of palatable species in an area.
- Recovery period – The length of time that plants take to recover after grazing is important, but should be accompanied by careful observation of the presence of feral herbivores and the possible emergence of weeds.
- Sensitivity of ecosystems – Some ecosystems, such as wetlands and riparian zones, are particularly sensitive to erosion and degradation by hard-hoofed animals. To minimise damage, grazing should be limited in intensity, and timed to avoid the flowering and seeding cycles of native vegetation, or excluded altogether from these areas.
- Monitoring – It is important to monitor the effects of any grazing regime, so that adjustments can be made to management in response to changes in the vegetation.
Where to get further advice
Additional information about grazing regimes and how they can be managed in an area can be obtained from the relevant regional natural resource management authority or State Department of Agriculture.