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, but sadly, apart from the odd visitor, no more. The area around Port Soif was well-known for these lovely ground-nesting birds, but none has bred there for about eight years.
The Conservation Herd moved to the area last weekend and will be grazing there for roughly 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 still has a population and conservationists there are very supportive of our efforts to bring some back here.
The land is managed by Guernsey’s Environment Department and since traditional grazing ended, the area has been tractor-mown 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 found here and 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 skylarks and cuckoo were commonly seen in Guernsey until relatively recently. 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. The Conservation Herd will be ideal to give ‘Operation Skylark’ the best possible start and it’s an exciting project for everyone involved.”
The Conservation Herd will be grazing within electric fencing for several weeks around Port Soif and will be checked daily by the team which cares for them. La Société 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.
Anyone who would like more information on the Conservation Herd is welcome to contact firstname.lastname@example.org and follow the project on Facebook. Visit the online map here to track where they are grazing.