Conservation Herd at Port Soif to encourage habitat for skylarks

June 10th, 2015 by La Société Guernesiaise

A Guernsey Conservation herd steer at Port Soif on 9 June 2015 (click image to expand - ©RLLord)

A Guernsey Conservation herd steer at Port Soif on 9 June 2015 (click image to expand – ©RLLord)

La Société Guernesiaise is to use its herd of six Guernsey steers to try to attract the skylark back to the Island by reintroducing grazing to the Port Soif Common area this summer.

Many islanders will remember the wonderful sight and sound of the skylarks that were once widespread in Guernsey. However, apart from the odd visitor, they are no longer found on the island. The area around Port Soif was well-known for these ground-nesting birds, but none has bred there for about eight years.

The Conservation Herd moved to the area in early June 2015 and will be grazing there for about six weeks to try to re-establish the habitat that attracted the birds to breed there.

Physical disturbance of the ground by trampling creates small bare patches of earth which disturb the seed bank and helps the germination of wildflowers.

This has the potential to allow plants which may once have been considered lost from a site to re-establish or spread.

These bare patches can also be important for ants and nesting solitary bees and wasps, and hopefully, Skylarks.

The birds won’t have far to travel. Jersey has a healthy population. Conservationists there are very supportive of our efforts to bring some back here.

A Conservation Herd steer at Port Soif on 9 June 2015 (click image to expand - ©RLLord)

A Guernsey Conservation Herd steer at Port Soif on 9 June 2015 (click image to expand – ©RLLord)

The land is managed by the Environment Department and since traditional grazing ended, the area has been mowed by tractor each year.

Tractor mowing is efficient but leaves the cut vegetation on the ground and a ‘thatch’ of dead grass builds up, the thatch smothers finer grasses and plants, encouraging coarser plants such as Common hogweed and brambles to thrive.

Reintroducing traditional grazing will increase the range of plants. An improved habitat will develop for insects and small mammals.

Grazing these areas of land will also allow the grassland to retain small tussocks of grass which are ideal nesting sites for Skylarks.

Julia Henney, the Conservation Herd’s manager, said “birds such as skylark and cuckoo were commonly seen in Guernsey until relatively recently.”

A Conservation Herd steer at Port Soif on the evening of 9 June 2015 (click image to expand - ©RLLord)

A Guernsey Conservation Herd steer at Port Soif on the evening of 9 June 2015 (click image to expand – ©RLLord)

“Traditional grazing around the coast has almost stopped and by reintroducing the Conservation Herd to selected sites we hope to recreate more favourable conditions that will encourage them to return here and, over time, to breed regularly on the Island,” she said.

The Conservation Herd will be grazing within electric fencing around Port Soif and will be checked daily by the team which cares for them.

La Société Guernesaise and the Environment Department would welcome assistance from regular dog walkers and people who walk or exercise around Port Soif.

‘Watchers’ are sought to keep an eye on the cattle when they’re passing and report any problems or concerns to the Conservation Herd team.

Temporary signs are placed around the site to explain the project and give information on who to contact in the event of an emergency.

Sign displayed by the field at Port Soif with the Conservation Herd (click image to expand)

Sign displayed by the field at Port Soif with the Conservation Herd (click image to expand)

The location of the Conservation Herd can be viewed on-line.

Please contact [email protected] for more information about the Conservation Herd.

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