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Title: Forage resources of cattle and ponies in the New Forest, southern England
Author: Ekins, Jennifer Rue
ISNI:       0000 0001 3442 3552
Awarding Body: University of Southampton
Current Institution: University of Southampton
Date of Award: 1989
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Grazing by large herbivores has long been a major factor influencing the development of the New Forest and its unique range of habitats. This study examines the relationships between free-ranging domestic stock and the habitat types available to them, with particular reference to forage resources. The quantity and quality of forage produced by the main vegetation types and key forage species were assessed in relation to seasonal patterns of habitat use, diet and gazing behaviour of cattle and ponies. Cattle grazing was focused on improved grasslands, with heather of increased importance in winter when most of the small number of cattle left out on the open Forest were fed straw. Ponies depended on natural forages throughout the year and had more varied diets and patterns of habitat use than cattle. Their grassland forage in summer was supplemented by relatively nutritious Molinia and Juncus taken in the bogs and wet heathlands; holly and gorse shoots were important in winter when increased use was made of woodlands and other shelter habitats. Offtake of most forages was closely related to available production, with ponies apparently out-competing cattle for the better quality resources; only the less palatable and poorer quality acid grassland herbage and heather were under-utilised. In the intensively grazed improved grasslands and streamside lawns ponies were usually observed to feed and dung in different parts of the sward, creating a mosaic of short and long grass patches. Cattle did not segregate feeding and dunging activities, and were unable to crop herbage as short as ponies. As a result their feeding, and much of their dung, was concentrated in the longer parts of the sward. Long grass areas were more productive and had higher soil and herbage levels of potassium than short grass areas in the same grassland type, reflecting higher nutrient inputs. Differences were also apparent in species composition, with low growing and rosette plants more common in the short swards. Past grassland improvement practices were also found to affect soil conditions, species composition and forage productivity and utilisation. Herbage production and offtake, and soil and herbage calcium levels were higher in the previously limed grasslands than in the unimproved acid grasslands; increased utilisation and species richness of the improved areas in part reflected reduced bracken cover. Differences in patterns of use of grasslands were detected, with ponies favouring smaller, more linear areas, such as streamside lawns and roadside verges, with a higher proportion of short grass. The implications of changes in stocking practices are discussed and suggestions are made to promote effective use of forage resources and to sustain the practice of commoning on which the maintenance of the Forest habitats depends.
Supervisor: Not available Sponsor: Not available
Qualification Name: Thesis (Ph.D.) Qualification Level: Doctoral
EThOS ID:  DOI: Not available
Keywords: Ecology