‘Operation Skylark’. Conservation Herd project at Port Soif, Guernsey

The Conservation Herd at Port Soif, Guernsey. Photo by Consrvation HerdBy Julia Henney and Pat Costen

La Societe GuernsiaiseLa 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.

La Societe Conservation HerdThe 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.

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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.

IMGP2150Julia 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 conservationherd@societe.org.gg and follow the project on Facebook. Visit the online map here to track where they are grazing.

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4 thoughts on “‘Operation Skylark’. Conservation Herd project at Port Soif, Guernsey

  1. It is likely that the fields adjacent to the Plemont Holiday camp site will be brought back to cattle grazing in the near future so it will be interesting to follow events in Guernsey to see if the birds set up territories quickly.

  2. Caroline Connolly – daughter of Maurice and Ruth O’Rorke, ‘Marais-Nord’:
    Would there be a possibility that the cats would be taking part in the skylarks demise during the breeding season ? Maybe the dogs too ?
    Would it be agreeable for a low e-fence to be erected, like the ones used for predators around tern colonies etc ?
    Hope progress can be made……

    • Hiya. Many thanks for your interest. Dogs will always be a threat if allowed to roam onto the land and the project will be keeping a look out because of the cattle too. Cats are much harder to keep out but I think that measures will need to be considered if skylarks do start to nest there.

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