Benefits of Traditionally Managed Grassland for Grazing Horses
Keeping horses is a great pastime, as well as being an excellent source of exercise. However, responsible grassland management is important too. Not only will traditionally managed grassland be beneficial for the horses, but it also helps the local and wider ecology.
Grazing is rather essential for the management of many important, at-risk wildlife habitats. Grassland requires grazing animals such as horses to help maintain its composition and structure. Several varieties of plants and animals depend on this for their very survival. However, overgrazing can inhibit the growth of wildflowers and other essential plants and grasses.
The undergrazing of grasslands can have a negative effect too, especially in lowland areas of the country. If left unchecked, this issue will lead to very dire consequences for the habitats in those areas. With no grazing horses, for instance, the delicate balance that plants, birds, insects and others require in order for their numbers to be sustained, will be unsettled.
The Importance of Horses to the Environment
As with other grazing animals, horses play an important role in the preservation of habitats that are home to a diverse range of species. Horses do this by grazing on more aggressive plant species that would dominate the habitats if left unchecked. There are other grassland management techniques, of course, but the traditional method of grazing is a much better way to go.
Grazing is a much slower, gradual process. It gives those species that can move to other areas, the chance to do so. This is not just more environmentally friendly, but it also helps minimise the damage caused by more aggressive grassland management.
Other activities are also supported, such as haymaking. Horses grazing in hay meadows, after a cut, help to control aggressive and coarse grasses. Additionally, the very act of trampling by the horses helps to create gaps in the grass through which seedlings can grow - this allows a greater variety of plant species to grow and flourish.
Where Other Animals Cannot Tread
There are areas where it is becoming increasingly difficult to find livestock to graze wildlife sites. It is in these areas of grasslands that horses are becoming more useful, not to mention important, as time goes by.
A lack of grazing animals can lead to a rapid deterioration of the condition of many natural habitats. Without proper management, or grazing animals, more invasive plants and grasses take hold and the subsequent losses are almost immediate. Wildflowers dwindle and eventually disappear, leading to the decline of butterflies, bees, insects, reptiles and several other species that rely on these habitats.
If traditional grazing is gone entirely, then properly managed grasslands may prove far too difficult and expensive to reinstate.
Intensive grazing systems, which have become common in the lowlands, can also have a negative effect as this type of pasture can involve different grass varieties, increased use of fertilisers and a shift away from hay ‘harvesting’ and towards cutting more frequently.
We cannot ignore the benefits of people traditionally managing grasslands for grazing horses - entire habitats depend on them.