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Understanding the role of livestock management on invertebrate communities of wet pastures

School of Biological Sciences

About the Project

The supervisory team comprises:

Glyn Barrett (School of Biological Sciences at the University of Reading) (Robin Buxton (Patsy Wood Trust), Ben Woodcock (Centre for Ecology and Hydrology), Sally-Ann Spence (Berrycroft)

Wet pastures along the Thames, Oxfordshire, represent areas of natural beauty and historic biodiversity, however, modern management has particularly negatively impacted on invertebrate communities. These are important both in their own right, but also as food resources for other trophic levels like farmland birds. 

Possible reasons for this decline include:

1. sward management by re-seeding and fertiliser application;
2. grazing management; species, breed, intensity and season; and
3. veterinary treatment of livestock and the effects of agricultural medicines, including nematicides and muscicides.

There is in a strong suggestion that dung beetles may have suffered particularly, although observations suggest that this may be reversible where antihelmintic treatment on grazing cattle and sheep are suspended. Similarly, where we manage livestock to minimise nematicide concentrations do we see a change in populations and diversity of soil invertebrates, and those specifically associated with dung?   This study aims to identify both the extent of the impacts of these management practices invertebrate biodiversity, both terrestrial and soil, as well as seeking to understand applied management solutions to mitigate these impacts while supporting productive pasture systems.  This work will be undertaken at Wittenham, Oxfordshire, as well as nearby site with a standard approach to cattle management and treatment. This study is aimed at developing a model of wet pasture management that other farmers could realistically follow without significant inconvenience or financial penalty.

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