Last year Flexigraze started grazing a small strip of grassland along a redundant aqueduct. The replacement of a regular mowing regime with the use of sheep had an immediate benefit in that the flowering plants thrived, allowed to seed rather than being mowed off in their prime. The pattern of grazing was a little experimental in that we wanted to see whether we could keep the sheep on all year on small sections of the site without damaging the flowers in too much of the area. Certainly the late grazing last year, with removal of sheep in June, allowed for a late flush of flowers and thus a valuable nectar source for bees late in the season.
This year we were back to survey the site properly and to assess the differences between grazed areas. Another survey later in the season and a repeat over the next few years will be needed as it’s early to draw conclusions. Anecdotally the area grazed late last year, while very diverse in the plants present seemed to have benefitted the grasses a little over the flowering plants. The middle section, grazed traditionally with sheep removed in March or April and back on for the autumn, seems to be the best for wildflowers.
The wildflowers were possibly the most striking feature, and what we had gone to survey. In particular the common spotted orchids (the one pictured may have a hint of hybridisation with a northern marsh) were just coming out into flower along the site. There were a few butterflies and damselflies to be seen too, including common blue butterfly (which seems to have emerged in numbers over the past week) and my first sighting for 2011 of an azure damselfly.