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Cattle grazing to bring new lease of life to Richmond Park


Introduction of new plan boosts London conservation target to 91%


Richmond Park is an internationally important area for wildlife conservation and Londons biggest Site of Special Scientific Interest (SSSI). Now a bold new conservation plan by the Royal Parks and Natural England is set to improve the parks biodiversity even further, and give a major boost to progress against environmental targets.

The park is famous for its ancient trees, herds of deer and colourful gardens. What is less well known is that it has the most extensive area of natural grassland in London, or that the type of grassland acid grassland is a nationally rare habitat. The presence of grassland on acidic soils is one of the chief reasons for Richmond Parks designation as a SSSI.

The new Grassland Management Plan aims to improve the parks acid grassland, which is home to many protected plant, invertebrate and bird species, and wildflowers such as tormentil, heath bedstraw and harebell. As a result of the plan, the percentage of Londons SSSIs in favourable or recovering condition has jumped from 76% to 91% (by area), helping Natural England reach its goal of bringing 95% of Englands SSSIs into target condition by December 2010.

At the heart of the scheme is the introduction of small numbers of cattle across selected areas of the park. The cows will help conserve the parks precious acid grassland and boost biodiversity thanks to their grazing method. Unlike the parks deer which eat woody vegetation, cows instead prefer lush grasses. By grazing on grass, the cattle create patches of bare ground, which allow wildflowers to flourish. The scheme is an extension of a successful grazing trial undertaken over an area of 4 hectares near the parks headquarters at Holly Lodge.

The Grassland Management Plan outlines a variety of options from grazing small, targeted areas to larger scale grazing to integrate the herds into the landscape. Docile breeds such as highland cattle will be used which will allow full public access to all the cattle-grazed areas. A consultation with local interest groups is underway. The agreed plan will take effect in Autumn 2011.

Simon Richards, Park Manager of Richmond Park said:

The Royal Parks makes a huge contribution to the biodiversity of London and the nation. We have worked closely with Natural England and stakeholders to agree this plan, which will significantly enhance the condition of Richmond Park over time, benefitting both the wildlife that lives here and the millions who visit us each year.

Rob Cameron, Head of Natural England in London said:

The agreement of a grassland management plan for Richmond Park is great news.  It not only has the potential to considerably increase the wildlife value of the park, but it will also make a significant contribution to the overall condition of Sites of Special Scientific Interest at a national level.

The new Grassland Management Plan at Richmond Park is featured in a new report, Protecting Englands Natural Treasures published by Natural England today.  The report details how the hard work of landowners, farmers and volunteers has transformed the fortunes of Englands SSSIs, halting or reversing the long process of decline that most SSSIs had experienced in recent decades.

About Natural England

Natural England is the governments independent adviser on the natural environment. Established in 2006 our work is focused on enhancing Englands wildlife and landscapes and maximising the benefits they bring to the public.

–       We establish and care for Englands main wildlife and geological sites, ensuring that over 4,000 National Nature Reserves and Sites of Special Scientific Interest are looked after and improved.

–       We work to ensure that Englands landscapes are effectively protected, designating Englands National Parks, Areas of Outstanding Natural Beauty and Marine Conservation Zones, and advising widely on their conservation.

–       We run Environmental Stewardship and other green farming schemes that deliver over 400 million a year to farmers and landowners, enabling them to enhance the natural environment across two thirds of Englands farmland.

–       We fund, manage, and provide scientific expertise for hundreds of conservation projects each year, improving the prospects for thousands of Englands species and habitats.

–       We promote access to the wider countryside, helping establish National Trails and coastal trails and ensuring that the public can enjoy and benefit from them.

For further information about Natural England please visit:  For further information about our work in London, see Natural England – London.

About the Royal Parks:

The Royal Parks is an executive agency of the Department for Culture, Media and Sport, and is the body responsible for managing the eight Royal Parks. Every year over 37 million people enjoy visiting the Royal Parks for free. The 5,000 acres of historic parkland provide unparalleled opportunities for enjoyment, exploration and healthy living in the heart of the capital. The Royal Parks are Bushy Park, The Green Park, Greenwich Park, Hyde Park, Kensington Gardens, The Regent’s Park and Primrose Hill, Richmond Park and St James’s Park. For further information, please visit:

London and the national target for Sites of Special Scientific Interest (SSSIs)

Natural England was charged by Government to work with land managers to bring 95% of all SSSIs (by area) into favourable or recovering condition by December 2010.  To date, only 76% of Londons sites have been in this target condition, predominantly due to a small number of large grassland sites, such as Richmond Park, being in unfavourable condition.

Richmond Park and the grazing trial

       Richmond Park is Londons biggest SSSI. The site was classified as being in unfavourable condition, and showed clear signs of under-grazing, despite the presence of over 600 fallow and red deer.

       In January 2008, The Royal Parks and Natural England began a cattle grazing trial to establish whether a change in management would improve the condition.

       The results have been positive, and have informed the development of the grassland management plan.

       The development of an agreed Grassland Management Plan means the percentage of Londons sites in target condition has risen from 76% to 91%.

       The trial saw cattle return to Richmond Park for the first time in 60 years. Cattle previously roamed Richmond Park in large numbers on a commercial basis. As more intensive methods of farming were introduced, the cattle became commercially unviable and numbers reduced. In 1914 there were 114 cattle, and in 1943 there were 50 cattle.

       The famous herds of deer have been continuously present since Charles I stocked the park in 1637.

       Richmond Park is also designated as a National Nature Reserve (NNR) and as a European Special Area of Conservation (SAC) for stag beetle. 


Acid Grassland

       Lowland acid grassland develops on low-nutrient, acidic soils (pH 4 to 5.5) overlying acidic rocks or on the free-draining, gravelly and sandy soils found in many parts of London. It often occurs as an integral part of lowland heath landscapes, commons and parklands. Grazing (or cutting) is needed to prevent invasion by scrub and trees.

       Lowland Acid Grassland is a UK Biodiversity Action Plan habitat, and therefore a top priority for wildlife conservation nationally.

       Several plant, invertebrate and bird species found in acid grassland are protected under the Wildlife and Countryside Act 1981. In England and Wales there are 271 Sites of Special Scientific Interest (SSSIs) that have this habitat as a principal reason for notification.

       Acid grassland is known for wildflowers such as tormentil, heath bedstraw and harebell, as well as rare plants including upright chickweed.

       A number of Special Areas of Conservation (SAC) are designated under the European Habitats Directive.In London these sites include Epping Forest, Wimbledon Common and Richmond Park, the largest of which is in Richmond Park.

Sites of Special Scientific Interest (SSSIs): Protecting Englands Natural Treasures

SSSIs are the best examples of wildlife and geology that Britain can offer.  There are 4,119 SSSIs across England ranging from a 4.5 sq m barn in Gloucestershire (home to lesser horseshoe bats), to huge areas such as 37,000 hectares of the Humber estuary (where a colony of grey seals and 50,000 golden plovers are found).  In total they cover more than 1m hectares (2.5m acres) or 8% of England.

36 of these SSSIs can be found in London, covering approximately 4,000 hectares.  Five SSSIs in the capital are also sites of European importance, three are special areas of conservation, protecting habitats and species, and two are Special Protection Areas for birds.

Since 2003, when just 57 per cent of SSSIs were assessed as being in favourable or recovering condition, they have been set on the road to recovery with the result that 96.5 per cent nationally are now either in favourable condition or are on course to reach it. Farmers, land managers, dedicated volunteers, charities and public bodies such as the Ministry of Defence have all played a major role in improving their condition.

One of the biggest single factors in the turnaround has been grants for environmentally sensitive farming such as Higher Level Stewardship, which benefit around 45 per cent of SSSIs. They are a combination of EU and British government funding which rewards farmers and land managers for conserving our most important wildlife habitats.

Protecting Englands Natural Treasures – A full list of Englands SSSIs is published alongside a new report by Natural England Protecting Englands Natural Treasures which details how the hard work of landowners, farmers and volunteers has transformed the fortunes of Englands SSSIs, halting or reversing the long process of decline that most SSSIs had experienced over recent decades.

Without these wildlife havens a number of fragile species clinging to survival would disappear from the UK and some would become globally extinct.

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