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Ecological benefits

Grazing livestock helps to sustain the delicate balance of plant, insect, bird and other species in the uplands, which makes these areas unique.

Livestock grazing - by both cattle and sheep - is essential for the maintenance of many important seminatural habitats and has a valuable role to play in the conservation of many upland bird species.

The important role played by sheep in the lifecycle of dung acting invertebrates should also be remembered, important for many insect eating birds, bats and mammals. This emphasises the essential importance of sheep to the ecology of LFA and marginal areas.

The important role of sheep in the management of peatland as a carbon store is to graze the vegetation and substantially reduce the risk of damage to the peat from wildfires.

Heather needs to be managed through a combination of grazing, burning and cutting. Well-managed heather has a varied age structure, and offers the greatest opportunities for biodiversity. It is more robust at withstanding fire, disease, pests and mismanagement.

Sheep have an important role to play in the management of heather moorland and offer the most sustainable management method, especially in conjunction with permitted burning which can be supplemented by cutting where burning is not possible.

It is generally accepted that the area of bracken in the UK is increasing as herbivore activity diminishes and, as the plant prefers reasonably fertile ground this expansion is reducing the amount of grazing land. This often at the expense of important in-bye land that is an essential component of hill farms, being used for lambing and over-wintering stock. Sheep and other livestock can have a controlling effect on bracken through the trampling of the plants and the root system (rhizomes) but the recent decline in stock numbers has reduced this and will lead to a further expansion in bracken cover.

Control of bracken on open hills and areas of shared grazing is seen to be an essential component of management. Control will boost the area available for grazing, add variety to the landscape by avoiding the development of monoculture, maximise the level of biodiversity, maintain access routes for hill walkers, and reduce the incidence of tick borne diseases that are a threat to human health and pose a risk to wild and domestic stock.

Grouse shooting contributes of £15 million to the GDP of the UK according to the Game and Wildlife Conservation Trust and sheep are an important part of grouse management in the control of parasites and the heather.

Last but certainly not least, maintaining sheep production in rural areas is essential for the social fabric. The fact that sheep are being kept directly means that people have to be there living, working and supporting the local communities.

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