By Tim Liddiard
The rugged north coast of Jersey is one of the Island’s most stunning and dramatic locations. It provides a strong sense of place, supports a unique and internationally significant assemblage of plants and animals and is a honeypot for recreation for locals and visitors alike.
These unique qualities have led to the area being designated as a National Park within the Island Plan – the first such designation in the Channel Islands – and being perceived by the majority of stakeholders, as one of the most ‘special’ parts of the Island.
The north coast forms an almost continuous belt of natural wild landscape from St Catherine’s in the east to Les Landes in the west and contains an intricate network of protected areas supporting a wide variety of wildlife.
Despite its beauty and importance, a wide range of indicators, including those within the Government’s own ‘State of Jersey Report’ show that the north coast is an area suffering ecological decline, particularly in relation to populations of key bird species. It is clear that further management is required to return these areas to favourable condition as required by the Island’s domestic and international commitments.
International and domestic obligations
The coastal slope between Grosnez and Plémont is an Atlantic Dry (Maritime) Heathland described as in an ecologically unfavourable condition and the majority is designated as a Site of Special Ecological Interest under the Planning and Building (Jersey) Law 2002.
Maritime heathland has a very limited global distribution being restricted to the north Atlantic coasts of Europe, where it once occurred widely, but has now been reduced in area to such an extent that it has become a rare habitat in Europe.
The habitat is listed for special attention under Annex 1 of the EC Habitats Directive. This Directive was adopted in 1992 as an EU response to the Bern Convention on the Conservation of European Wildlife and Natural Habitats, to which the States of Jersey are signatory. This allows Jersey to demonstrate that the Island is a responsible jurisdiction in terms of environmental protection and the maintenance and enhancement of the Island’s globally significant and unique assemblages of plants and animals. These types of habitats require careful management for them to retain the features that make them ecologically valuable.
The purpose and objectives of reintroducing grazing
Up until the beginning of the 20th Century the coastal headlands and north facing escarpments were an important part of the rural economy in Jersey. Cattle, ponies and sheep would have grazed upon these areas and gorse and bracken would have been collected for fuel and bedding respectively. Today such practices no longer take place and bracken and scrub has encroached, leading to a decline in biodiversity and resulting in many coastal and heathland species becoming extinct locally, with others in dramatic decline such as the skylark, yellowhammer and stonechat (see details of declines here).
Consequently, in Jersey such areas need to be actively/physically managed to prevent the sites generally and the heather specifically from moving into what is described as the degenerative stage and to prevent encroachment of bracken, which swamps other plants as is very difficult to remove once established.
Sites in Jersey are managed through a long-term partnership between Department of the Environment, the National Trust for Jersey as part of their Coastline Campaign and Durrell. The partnership also supports Birds On The Edge Project promoting the active management of Jersey’s coastland to maintain and restore populations of birds.
One of the BOTE’s critical objectives is to re-establish grazing flocks to achieve sustainable and cost effective land management which will enhance the heathland landscape and habitats on Jersey’s cliff tops.
Key objectives are not restricted to ecological outcomes and include:
- The re-establishment of traditional grazing practices to Jersey’s coastland
- The restoration of biodiversity in coastland areas by recreating a mosaic of vegetation types
- The generation of economic activity through enhancing tourism and inward investment offering the provision of an educational resource
- Promotion and incubation of new rural businesses in the Island
- Use of the natural environment as a social resource that allows rehabilitation and development of those seeking employment
In 2008, the National Trust for Jersey introduced 20 Manx loaghtan sheep into an area of 180 vergees between Sorel Point and Devil’s Hole to undertake conservation grazing in the Island. The sheep flock is being built to a sustainable size over the next few years by extending the areas that are grazed to prevent over-grazing, whilst allowing the flock to grow into an economically viable business. This is an exciting long term project which is at the forefront of the Island’s countryside conservation work.
Proposed extension to grazing area
Issues raised included the cost of the project and that fishermen and others will not be able to access the site; however, gates would be positioned to allow easy access and egress for all users to and from the grazed area at most times of the year. The provision of a north coast route extension will cater for those not wanting to place dogs on leashes.
The question has also been raised about the stocking density and timing of grazing. There is great scope for flexibility here – there will be options to mob graze (large numbers of animals for very short periods) or more gradual grazing with a low stocking density, although this is to some extent dependant on the grazier’s requirements. The effects of grazing will be monitored to ensure that no damage is caused to the rich archaeology which exists here and to habitats by overgrazing.
The total area selected for grazing measures is 124 vergees of which 50% is bracken scrub. The costs of management fall into two categories a) the relatively flat areas managed by tractor and by hand (50 vergees) and b) the coastal slopes, inaccessible by machine and managed by hand (74 vergees).
Mechanical and chemical control and management by hand will cost approximately £24,705 per annum.
Control by grazing animals will cost approximately £8,550 per annum with a one-off capital cost of £17,000 for fencing including materials and labour.
- The Island has domestic and international obligations to protect its non-renewable natural resources
- Strong evidence suggests that protected areas on the north coast of the Island are in ecological decline and that management is required to reverse these declines and avoid future extinctions and habitat degradation
- Any management regime should be cost effective, particularly at a time of austerity, sustainable in the long-term and where possible provide multiple benefits to the Island
- The use of grazing animals is a third of the price of mechanical intervention and provides a range of added societal benefits and consequently appears to be the most cost effective and appropriate option for ongoing heathland site-restoration on the north coast
- If the lands were left to overgrow there would be significant knock-ons to public access to the countryside in addition to substantial costs to re establish pathways and routes should this be deemed necessary.