Following its success last year the striking Soay Sheep will be returning, next month, to graze in the North Fort at Berry Head National Nature Reserve (NNR) . The sheep are being used as conservation grazers to encourage the growth and protection of important and rare plants that inhabit the popular headland, cared for by local conservation charity the Torbay Coast and Countryside Trust.
Hardier than domestic sheep the Soay are smaller and much more agile, commonly brown or tan in colour and are experts in grazing hard to reach areas, making them perfect for this important role.
Conservation grazing by sheep is one of the most effective ways that a diverse habitat like Berry Head can be managed. The Soay Sheep love eating the scrub and rougher grasses that overshadow the important rare plants found there and they can get to places less accessible to the Rangers and their machinery.
Berry Head NNR is within an Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty and is particularly popular with the local dog walking community. During this grazing period extra vigilance is requested; keeping dogs on leads in these areas is essential and proved successful in minimising problems last year.
Noel Hughes, Countryside Officer for Torbay Coast and Countryside trust said,
“Grazing is an important tool in the battle to protect our rarest species of wildflower and plant, the sheep are able to get into areas where it is not safe for staff to go and they keep the grass and scrub at just the right level to enable many species to survive. Whilst dogs and livestock are not always a good mix, we politely request that dogs are kept on leads in these areas to avoid potential problems and this was enormously successful last year with few issues. With this support, and that of the Friends of Berry Head, we are able to guarantee the safety of the flock and safeguard the protection of the area.”
The Friends of Berry Head are a voluntary group who are passionate about the conservation of the area. A spokesperson for the group said,
“The Friends of Berry Head seek to protect, conserve and enhance Berry Head NNR alongside the Torbay Coast and Countryside Trust. Whilst not all of us are dog walkers, although a good many are, we all care deeply about the site and consider ourselves fortunate to live close by and therefore able to enjoy all it has to offer throughout the year. We understand there is a need for grazing to take place from time to time across different areas of the reserve as this directly benefits the many rare and threatened plants that live here. We consider that being able to walk our dogs on a national nature reserve is a privilege. Keeping a dog on a lead in what is a relatively small area and for such a short period of time is a small price to pay for helping to maintain the site for the benefit and enjoyment of everybody who uses it.”
Anyone with any questions or concerns should contact a ranger on 01803 882 619, or attend an ‘Ask a Ranger’ drop-in session at the Berry Head Visitor Centre.