Grazing returns to L’Ancresse Common

From La Société Conservation Herd


The (Guernsey) Conservation Herd have been invited to graze L’Ancresse Common and were moved to the common on Sunday 2nd April.

La Société Conservation Herd were invited to graze the Common by Vale Commons Council as a trial to re-introduce grazing. This initiative has been set up under its new management regime which aims to protect the area as an important recreational and cultural site whilst also enhancing the internationally important grasslands.

The Conservation Herd at Port Soif, Guernsey. Photo by Helen Young


L’Ancresse Common was historically grazed by inhabitants of Braye du Valle, who have rights to graze their animals there. As fewer households kept their own cows and it became less economically viable for dairy farms to graze theirs on the common, the number of grazing animals there reduced. Today, no inhabitants exercise their right to graze.

This loss of grazing has had a significant impact on the ecology of the common – the grassland has become tall and rank and areas have become established by gorse and brambles. The delicate wildflowers which require short, grazed grassland no longer have access to light and so are being lost from the common. This, in turn, leads to a loss of the insects, small mammals, bats and birds which rely on them.

The Conservation Herd on L'Ancresse Common. Photo by Andrew Guille

La Société Conservation Herd

The Conservation Herd is a herd of eight Guernsey steers whose job is to manage grasslands to protect and enhance their diversity. La Société was approached by VCC to graze the common for several weeks, starting from April 2nd. This initiative is a trial of a longer-termed project which aims to see more grazing animals return to the common.

Julia Henney, the Conservation Herd’s manager, said, “We were delighted to be approached by VCC and asked to graze L’Ancresse Common. It is a vitally important site for Guernsey’s biodiversity and we hope that re-introducing grazing will help preserve it for many years to come. We have experience grazing common land, with the introduction of Operation Skylark at Port Soif Common. The local community offered so much support and the herd were well received and accepted onto Port Soif Common and we hope to replicate this success at L’Ancresse.”

The Conservation Herd on L'Ancresse Common. Photo by Chris SimsPeter Blake, President of the Vales Commons Council  said “Myself and my committee wish you and the herd a great stay on the Common and hope that this will encourage more of the inhabitants to do the same.”

The Conservation Herd will be grazing within electric fencing for several weeks around The Doyle area and will be checked daily by the team which cares for them. La Société and the Vale Commons Council would welcome assistance from regular dog walkers and people who walk or exercise around L’Ancresse. ‘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 Julia Henney at and visit our online map here to track where they are grazing.

The Conservation Herd on L'Ancresse Common. Photo by Andrew Guille


Sheep attacked in Beauport

Grazing sheep at Le Marionneux. Photo by Liz Corry

By Aaron le Couteur

This is the very real consequence of not being a responsible dog owner. I’d first like to say thank you, thank you to all the good owners out there, who understand their own animal, and respect others, but even if you think this is you, please read on….

To the culprits, I really don’t know what to say. You may think that this is just a sheep, but I’d say you’re wrong. Her name is Bercail Gallant, she was born on the 7th March last year at quarter to two in the afternoon and weighed just 2.9kg. You could hold her in the palm of one hand. I did, I was there. This is a living, breathing creature that gets scared like we do, that has instincts like we do, that feels pain like we do, and that deserves compassion and respect in equal measure to your pet. No animal ever deserves to go through this, and what makes it so difficult to swallow is that there is absolutely no need for it.

It would be easier to sleep at night to think this dog owner was an awful malicious person, with a menacing dog. The difficult reality is that all too often these attacks are caused by well-meaning people, who never for a second think their dog would have this in them, but they do. They all do. So, if the video (on Facebook) upsets you, please, please be responsible. Train your dog to have a solid recall, never let them out of your sight, and if you can’t control your dog, use a lead. But if something like this does happen, let the owner know, don’t ever leave the animal suffering. PLEASE.

Bercail Gallant. Photo from The Reserve

This happened on Tuesday morning last week in the early hours, sometime before 0800, in the Beauport area. Five sheep in total had various wounds and injuries. Thanks to some outstanding veterinary work, Gallant has a shot of pulling through, it will be a long road, which she doesn’t deserve, but we will give her every chance.

Please don’t forget, these sheep are members of the Birds On The Edge team like us and like the choughs and deserve every bit as much respect as we all do.

The ReserveYou can see a video of Bercail Gallant on The Reserve (Jersey) Facebook page here but be warned this video is graphic and upsetting (and some of the comments are ‘colourful’!).


Sheep and lichens at Sorel

Cladonia fimbriata RBy Anne Haden

How do lichens and sheep get on together? Lichens are a great indicator of the quality of the air around us. Lichens like to grow where the air is pollution free, hence the profusion of lichens around the Jersey coast. They are formed from a fungus living in mutual association with an algae and are able to live on different surfaces like soil, wood or rock.

Ramalinas and crustose lichens on rock RThe short turf at Sorel has been opened up by the sheep and the habitat allows a range of lichens to grow between the grasses. Common lichens to be seen on the soil up here include Cladonia furcata and Cladonia fimbriata. Cladonias sometimes have friuting bodies that are cupshaped and easily identifiable in the field.

Open heaths provide an excellent habitat for some of the more unusual Cladonias, the heathers are being encouraged to return to Sorel to create more heathland. The National Trust has fenced off some heathers to encourage them to self seed.

Ramalina siliquosa Sea Ivory RLichens growing on rock can be seen near the cliffs at Sorel, including the very common sea ivory Ramalina siliquosa. There are several varieties of Ramalina on the rocks, careful study reveals some strands are flatter and some bear fruiting bodies. Also on the rocks are flat patches of crustose lichens that are firmly embedded on the rock and are very slow growing.

Xanthoria parietina RThere are not many trees at Sorel; however, the blackthorn and hawthorn bushes provide branches and twigs that are covered in lichens. Especially the very common Xanthoria parietina that gives rise to the expression ‘yellow trees’. Close examination of Xanthoria parietina shows lots of round fruiting bodies often called ‘jam tarts’ by lichenologists. This lichen grows well in nitrogen rich air, hence the increase in Jersey due to the rise in nitrogen in the air from farming activities. So, yes, lichens, like choughs, do appreciate those sheep making it a better place for them at Sorel.

A rich biodiverse mix of lichens and mosses R

Coastal grazing project – coastal slope between Grosnez and Plémont


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

Manx loaghtan sheep at Le Don Paton. Photo by Aaron le Couteur (17)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).

Manx loaghtan sheep at Le Don Paton. Photo by Aaron le Couteur (18)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

The area between Grosnez and Plémont has been the subject of a planning application to erect livestock fencing which has generated both supportive and unsupportive comments from locals.NE-IM-GRosnez fence (1)

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.

NE-MPC-Post Arch DBA Grosnez to Plemont fenceline 12.11.2015

NE-MPC-Post Arch DBA Grosnez to Plemont fenceline 12.11.2015

Management costs

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.

Manx loaghtan sheep at Le Don Paton. Photo by Aaron le Couteur (2)

How are the birds doing on Jersey’s north coast?

DSC_0045The latest Annual Bulletin of the Société Jersiaise includes a paper on the current status of the birds of Jersey’s north coast with details of trends in their populations over 30 years, 1985-2014.

The north coast of Jersey is one of the most important areas for birds on the Island and will be included in the Jersey Coastal National Park. The cliffs have traditionally held large numbers of breeding seabirds including iconic species like the Atlantic puffin and raptors like the peregrine. A wide variety of vegetation types on the upper slopes of the cliffs and marginal, mixed farmland on the cliff tops have been strongholds for many songbirds including stonechat, meadow pipit and linnet, birds typical of Jersey’s coastline and now found only rarely elsewhere on the Island. Jersey’s now extinct yellowhammer population was previously restricted to the north coast.

In recent years, however, changes in agricultural practices locally, notably the abandonment of many marginal cliff-top fields and encroachment by bracken, threats of widespread development and increase in leisure activities have led to growing concern for the Island’s coastline. Long-term monitoring of the bird populations is a powerful tool, showing in part what is happening to Jersey’s wildlife at the start of the 21st Century.


Survey methods

Jersey’s north coast cliff path runs from L’Étacq to Rozel. The majority of the path (typically from L’Étacq to Les Platons) was walked west to east on one day each year (typically during June) by Glyn Young and others. All birds of every species except herring and lesser black-backed gulls seen or heard at any distance either side of the path were recorded. The two gull species were not counted because, nesting on the cliffs, they are present at all times and difficult to count with this method. These gulls are, however, included in other Island-wide surveys.

There are many variables inherent in this methodology (date, weather on the day, onset or delay in spring etc. and even exact finishing point); however, the spread of 30 years data will exhibit robust trends in populations despite this.


A total of 87 bird species were recorded. While the number of species seen each year stays similar (at around 50 each year), the overall number of individual birds seen each year shows an alarming downward trend.

Total numbers of birds recorded on Jersey's north coast 1985-2014

Total numbers of birds recorded on Jersey’s north coast 1985-2014. From Ann. Bull. Soc. Jersiaise 31 (3): 493-499.

Gains and losses

The fluidity of the north coast’s bird fauna can be seen by changes in the species composition since 1985. Species recorded in at least 10 consecutive years from 1985 and not seen for more than five years until 2014 can be considered lost. Species that were first recorded since 1985 and seen in more than five consecutive years up to 2014 are considered gains.

Bird species lost and gained on Jersey’s north coast 1985-2014

Bird species lost and gained on Jersey’s north coast 1985-2014. From Ann. Bull. Soc. Jersiaise 31 (3): 493-499.

Peregrine juveniles 2008. Photo by Mick DrydenThe species gained (three diurnal raptors and a corvid) are typically those that have been persecuted, if not in Jersey, certainly elsewhere, and that have seen increases in continental and UK populations following statutory protection. In contrast the losses (three songbirds and a dove) are species likely to have declined through a more varied and often unclear combination of causes within and outside of Jersey including widespread habitat modification and loss, especially in farmland and marginal land, and global climate change. This is of concern as whereas simply protection may have helped restore populations of some, often high profile, species, we are seeing serious declines of formerly common species despite ongoing protection.


Total number of shags recorded on Jersey’s north coast 1985-2014

Total number of shags recorded on Jersey’s north coast 1985-2014. From Ann. Bull. Soc. Jersiaise 31 (3): 493-499.

Total number of Atlantic puffins recorded on Jersey’s north coast 1985-2014

Total number of Atlantic puffins recorded on Jersey’s north coast 1985-2014. From Ann. Bull. Soc. Jersiaise 31 (3): 493-499.

Jersey has nine breeding seabird species, of which seven nest on the north coast. Of these, six are threatened with extinction locally (see our Red List here). The north coast population of shag was described as very stable in 1996. It has proved quite the opposite since then with the causes of this decline not yet determined. In contrast, perhaps, the situation with Atlantic puffin was more expected with a longer history of decline. The razorbill, in contrast, remains scarce but may be relatively stable with less than 10 pairs. The great black-backed gull population fluctuates annually but is stable or increasing slightly while the colonisation by fulmar (it first nested in Jersey in 1974) appears to have ended: the 75-100 pairs reported in 1996 have not increased or spread from the north coast.

Diurnal raptors

Total number of raptor species (dark grey) and individual raptors (pale grey) recorded on Jersey’s north coast 1985-2014

Total number of raptor species (dark grey) and individual raptors (pale grey) recorded on Jersey’s north coast 1985-2014. From Ann. Bull. Soc. Jersiaise 31 (3): 493-499.

Total number of peregrines recorded on Jersey’s north coast 1985-2014

Total number of peregrines recorded on Jersey’s north coast 1985-2014. From Ann. Bull. Soc. Jersiaise 31 (3): 493-499.

Numbers of diurnal raptors (here two unrelated groups, hawks and falcons) recorded on the north coast have increased dramatically since 1985. Only kestrel was recorded in 1985 with occasional sparrowhawk (now resident) and migratory hobby adding to the figures in the next few years. Peregrine was first recorded in 1994 but has been seen annually since it returned to Jersey to breed in 2000 after an absence of 42 years. Marsh harrier and common buzzard were first recorded in 2006 and 2012 respectively four and five years after each species was first recorded nesting in Jersey. The kestrel is the only raptor to have been recorded in every year of the survey and, while numbers recorded each year have fluctuated (from five to 22), the population appears fairly stable.

Pigeons and dove

Total number of (feral) rock dove (black), stock dove (hatched) and wood pigeon (pale grey) recorded on Jersey’s north coast 1985-2014

Total number of (feral) rock dove (black), stock dove (hatched) and wood pigeon (pale grey) recorded on Jersey’s north coast 1985-2014. From Ann. Bull. Soc. Jersiaise 31 (3): 493-499.

Pigeons and doves (columbids)recorded on the north coast, have shown varied fortunes over the period of study. While only the feral population of rock dove (there are both naturalised, breeding, birds and those possibly still involved in a human activity (‘racing pigeons’) present) can be considered truly cliff nesters, the closely related stock dove and wood pigeon were recorded both on the cliffs and in the cliff-top fields. Two smaller species, the doves, turtle dove and collared dove, are birds of farmland, the latter typically in close association with human dwellings.

Total number of collared dove (black) and turtle dove (pale grey) recorded on Jersey’s north coast 1985-2014

Total number of collared dove (black) and turtle dove (pale grey) recorded on Jersey’s north coast 1985-2014. From Ann. Bull. Soc. Jersiaise 31 (3): 493-499.

Rock dove appears to have a stable, although fluctuating, population whereas each of the other species has declined. Wood pigeon and stock dove are very common in other areas of the Island, seeming, in recent years, to simply shun the cliffs. Stock dove was considered (in 1996) to nest widely on the cliffs but now does so only rarely. While the decline of the turtle dove throughout Western Europe is mirrored in Jersey (it may now no longer breed on the Island) the decline of collared dove is more interesting. Collared doves are common in urban and sub-urban areas but increasingly scarce in farmland where the return of the predatory sparrowhawk and peregrine may have influenced their habitat choice. Similarly, the reduction in stock dove on the cliffs may have followed the return of the columbid-feeding peregrine, the doves choosing to nest inland in safer sites.

Collared dove. Photo by Mick Dryden


Total number of meadow pipit (black) and linnet (pale grey) recorded on Jersey’s north coast 1985-2014

Total number of meadow pipit (black) and linnet (pale grey) recorded on Jersey’s north coast 1985-2014. From Ann. Bull. Soc. Jersiaise 31 (3): 493-499.

Total number of stonechat recorded on Jersey’s north coast 1985-2014

Total number of stonechat recorded on Jersey’s north coast 1985-2014. From Ann. Bull. Soc. Jersiaise 31 (3): 493-499.

Meadow pipit and linnet are birds of the coast in Jersey, preferring too relatively undisturbed areas. These two species probably now breed predominantly on the north coast. Although the decline of the linnet is dramatic, the much reduced population does at least appear to have stabilised since 2005. Jersey’s breeding population of meadow pipit is not high but it too does appear fairly stable on the north coast. The stonechat is another species in steep decline locally with no more than five pairs breeding some years. It is likely that the north coast holds the majority of breeding pairs although even here the population fluctuates.

Two further species, starling and house sparrow are worthy of note. These two birds, formerly considered abundant in Jersey, have declined alarmingly on the north coast. Although both these species are often associated with human dwellings, at least when nesting, it is perhaps a sign of the state of the former farmland on the north coast that both species are doing so badly here.

Total number of common starling (black) and house sparrow (pale grey) recorded on Jersey’s north coast 1985-2014

Total number of common starling (black) and house sparrow (pale grey) recorded on Jersey’s north coast 1985-2014. From Ann. Bull. Soc. Jersiaise 31 (3): 493-499.

Starling. Photo by Mick Dryden


It is very clear even from this single annual survey that the bird populations on Jersey’s north coast are not faring well. It is clear too that some species and some groups of species are faring particularly badly while some others are apparently stable or even increasing. Although the causes of the declines are not clear and complex, the rise of raptor numbers shows the benefit of widescale, targeted, species-based conservation initiatives while the decline of seabirds and those species dependent on farmland and marginal land shows larger, possibly even global, concerns that will be much harder to redress. Birds On The Edge aims to restore Jersey’s declining coastland birds and return those species now locally extinct.

I am very grateful to Roger Long and the Société Jersiaise for allowing use of the graphs in this piece.

Why farms need dung beetles, why choughs need dung beetles, why we all need dung beetles

Aphodius affinis under the microscope.By Sally-Ann Spence FLS FRES

Dung beetles belong to the group of insects called the Scarabaeoidea, which include dung beetles, chafer and stag beetles. There are just over one hundred species in the UK, of which over half are dung beetles. The National Recording Scheme for Scarabaeiodea has existed for many years, and has mostly been a data collection point and identification support to the recording community. As part of the on-going Species Status Project by Natural England in collaboration with Buglife, a review of the scarce and threatened dung beetles and chafers is currently in progress (to be published next year). This project highlighted the lack of modern records for many rare species and areas of the UK that were severely under recorded. This prompted us, Darren Mann (Head of Life Collections at the Oxford University Museum of Natural History), Steve Lane, Ceri Watkins and myself (Sally-Ann Spence) to go out look for beetles in under-recorded areas and to re-survey sites where rare species were previously known. Together we set up the Dung beetle UK Mapping Project – affectionately abbreviated to DUMP and drawn attention to our project using the Twitter hashtags #dungathon and #dungisfun.

In addition to the fieldwork, we are examining museum collections to extract data for the historic distribution of species. We have put out a call to the beetle recording community, and data mined Irecord and Ispot. All of this data is building better distribution maps, informing habitat preferences and providing other ecological data for the UK dung beetle species. The end result will be a dataset of dung beetle information, including identification, distribution maps, ecology and species conservation status. This will be made available via The British Beetles website and will include an on-line recording system using Irecord.

Why we all need dung beetles

Dung beetles are considered key Ecosystem Service Providers within the livestock sector. They deliver many benefits to farmers including increased soil nutrients and general nutrient recycling. They improve the soil structure by increasing aeration and drainage which in turn increases rain water filtration through the soil which also leads to a reduced run-off of rainfall – research is also looking at their pasture reseeding capabilities, abilities to reduce anaerobic processes and decrease methane formation. We know the process of pasture reseeding can have detrimental effects on soil erosion too.

They reduce pest flies, gastrointestinal parasites and pasture fouling by carrying fly egg and larval eating mites with them as well as consuming the dung the maggots live in themselves. Research is on-going into their part in nitrogen and carbon recycling but we know they are incredibly important in keeping pastures green and healthy for livestock especially in the absence of non-organic artificial fertilisers. Our results mapping the dung beetle species in the UK (although the project is in its youth), are already showing an alarming trend in species rarity and even extinction. The three main reasons behind this are considered to be the use of anthelmintics (especially in wormers), soil disturbance and the disappearance of livestock from historic pastures due to a change in farming practices.

We take the opportunity of our survey visits to make farmers/livestock keepers aware of their dung beetles, the latest research, their economic benefits and how they might implement simple workable measures to ensure a healthy dung beetle population. We have received a fantastically positive response from all we have spoken to. Farmers are keen to preserve their dung beetles and we intend to gather more data about species and their population frequencies to enable more research into these incredibly important beetles.

We are at present unfunded (please contact if interested in helping to fund this vital project) so as individuals we are surveying the whole of the UK in our spare time, on family holidays or around other work. It is a huge labour of dung beetle devotion. We are obsessives and dung is a big part of our lives. The project is vast. Different species live in or under different dung in different stages of decomposition on different soils at different altitudes at different times of the year. Dung quality is important too. We have become connoisseurs of fine dung. Not adverse to feeling the texture or giving it a good sniff (you can tell a lot about an animals health by its dung), we will examine it and the soil underneath meticulously for beetles. All data is noted on the spot – the date, GPS location, soil type, weather conditions, temperature, elevation, dung type, pasture quality and time spent in that locality surveying.

Dung beetles in Jersey

Minotaur beetle burrow freshly dug near Devils Hole and the beetle was actively taking sheep dung into it.On a recent trip to Jersey helping a colleague working on the Ice Age Project, I took the opportunity to contact the Roger Long of the Société Jersiaise to trace some historical specimens in their collection that I had become aware of through my research. Never to miss a chance I also managed to survey a few isolated locations and one of which was the area around Devils Hole. It was just awesome to encounter large areas of Minotaur beetle Typhaeus typhoeus burrows. These dung beetles like sheep and rabbit dung on light soils with short turf. The population in this area was extremely good and as it became dark the air hummed with them flying in on sheep dung. They fill their burrows with the dung for their larvae to feed on. The smaller Aphodius sphacelatus and Aphodius prodromus were also represented in good numbers. These Autumn emergence species feed in the dung itself. Excitingly I also found Aphodius affinis in this area. Another small dung beetle that feeds within the dung but is not found in the UK and is considered rare in France. It was also a first record for Jersey.

These dung beetles and their larvae are a vital part of food webs supporting many insectivorous birds and omnivorous mammals. The Minotaur beetles in particular are a important food resource for the choughs (see photo here)  and it was excellent to see the sheep maintaining the right habitat for these beetles by their grazing behaviour and the dung they produced.

We hope to be back in Jersey in May 2016 to complete a whole Island dung beetle survey. This will provide a species list and population density records crucial for further research into Jersey’s precious ecosystems.

You can read about Sally-Ann’s Minibeast Mayhem – Educational Workshops here


Jersey’s superstar sheep flourishing on the north coast

Grazing sheep at Le Marionneux. Photo by Liz Corry

By Liz Corry and Jon Rault

They might not seem like it at first glance, but the sheep at Sorel are part of a special task force deployed in Jersey to help protect and serve the Island’s biodiversity. And now to boot they have celebrity status! Having featured on BBC’s Countryfile back in summer and subsequently attracting tourists to the north coast they have once again hit the headlines with ITV Report.


The report by Katie Robinson (ITV Channel) can be found by clicking here or following The National Trust for Jersey‘s Facebook page. There is a nice video as well featuring ranger Neil Harvey and a cameo from the chough flock.

Working hard on our coastline since 2009

Having been established back in 2009 with just 20 breeding ewes and two rams, Jersey’s conservation grazing flock of Manx loaghtan sheep is now almost 200 strong. The Manx loaghtan, a hardy rare breed thought to be the closest living relative of the now extinct Jersey sheep, originate from the Isle of Man. Since their introduction, the flock have been invaluable in addressing the widespread ecological degradation that has taken place along Jersey’s north coast.

Historically, the coastal headlands and slopes on Jersey’s north coast were grazed; however changes in Jersey’s economy during the early 20th century led to the cessation of traditional mixed farming practices on marginal land. When active management ceased, the semi-natural open grassland and heathland habitats characteristic of traditionally farmed marginal areas began to be invaded by bracken and scrub. The invasion of bracken in particular, which now blankets vast swathes of land along the north coast of the Island, has sadly led to a widespread decline in biodiversity.

Reinstating active management is the key to restoring species-rich semi-natural maritime grassland and heathland habitats. The Manx loaghtan flock contribute enormously in this respect. Through the action of trampling, the sheep help to reduce the cover of bracken, while grazing controls the growth of competitive plant species, prevents scrub invasion, and facilitates the development of diverse plant communities with varied sward structures. In addition, patches of bare ground and animal dung resulting from sheep grazing provide important resources for invertebrates.

Sheep, choughs and other birds

The Manx loaghtan grazing area at Le Don Paton provides ideal habitat for the choughs. These iconic birds forage for invertebrate prey in areas of short turf and dung produced by the grazing sheep, and also use wool in nest building. In addition to benefiting Jersey’s resident wildlife, the short grassy areas maintained by grazing also provide feeding opportunities for migratory bird species of conservation concern, such as meadow pipit, wheatear and ring ouzel. P1070125

The increase in the size of the flock is fantastic news as it will allow this highly effective and sustainable management technique to be more widely applied, facilitating the restoration of Jersey’s coastal headland habitat for the benefit of our native wildlife.

Sheep and people

The flock have proven to be extremely popular with both visitors and local residents alike, to the extent that they are now something of a visitor attraction. An additional benefit of the increase in flock size is the increased production of high quality meat for the local market, as well as wool for craft knitting.

Islanders help boost Jersey’s grazing restoration project

P1630692By Liz Corry

They say the grass is always greener on the other side. Well now the sheep at Sorel can find out first-hand.

Ecoscape and the Back to Work scheme at Sorel. Photo by Liz Corry

Thanks to the skill and hard work of the guys on the Back to Work scheme and Ecoscape, the sheep now have access to extra grazing land at Sorel.

A fence has been erected around the field adjacent to the chough release-aviary allowing for the shepherd to improve the management of his flock. It is a relatively small area, but it will make a huge difference.


P1620359 P1620334Once the fence was up and tools cleared away, the shepherds then had the seemingly mammoth task of herding the sheep from the cliffs and picking out which sheep would go in the new site. Luckily for them Mist the sheep dog, made the job a lot easier.

Aaron the shepherd stood at the top of the ridge calls to Mist, his dog, below to push the sheep up the ridge and onto the headland. Photo by Liz Corry

The shepherding team showing off their skills. Photo by Liz Corry.

Up until the beginning of the 20th Century, the coastal headlands were an important part of the rural economy. Cattle, ponies and sheep would have grazed upon these areas and gorse and bracken would have been collected for fuel and bedding respectively. The disappearance of such practices allowed bracken and scrub to encroach, in turn leading to the disappearance of many coastal and heathland species. The red-billed chough is a prime example of such a species relying on the sheep to improve habitat as well as providing their wool for nest building.

P1630835 P1630837The Back to Work scheme, set up by the Social Security Department and Department of the Environment, helps unemployed people in Jersey to gain skills and experience to attain permanent employment while carrying out dedicated projects enhancing Jersey’s biodiversity.

Ecoscape, a local contractor with a wealth of environmental experience, provide guidance and training to participants on the scheme. Its hard work at times, but the skills acquired and sense of achievement with the end result can be very rewarding.

A video produced by ALC gives you an insight into what was involved over the five days the team worked at Sorel. You can also view it via Ecoscape’s Facebook page.

Monitoring schemes in Jersey and the BOTE Breeding Bird Survey

DSC_0036By Cris Sellarés

If a conservation initiative like Birds On The Edge aims to restore bird populations and stop them from further declines, it is important that we keep our eyes on the target. Even when you are busy restoring habitats, planting winter bird crops, clearing bracken and introducing grazing flocks, unless you monitor how the birds are actually doing, you can’t just assume that things will work out, just because they work well elsewhere.

In short, doing the conservation work itself is only half of the job. Any project needs to put in place systems to measure its progress, not only to find out whether techniques actually work but also when to stop, evaluate and adjust. Real-time feedback allows us to adapt the techniques that we use, saving a great amount of work, time and money.

Conservation crop in field on Jersey's north coast. Photo by Cris Sellares

Thankfully some local initiatives have been monitoring birds in Jersey for quite a while. The Ornithology Section of the Société Jersiaise collects bird records all year round and publishes an annual bird report summarizing each species’ year. During spring, our local representative of the BTO co-ordinates a team of volunteers that survey randomly selected squares twice in a 6-week period and record all breeding birds and their activity. The BTO then publishes a nationwide analysis and report on general trends based on everybody’s input. On top of that, every year the BTO organizes a nationwide census for a different species, in which Jersey’s ornithologists also participate. Last year it was the peregrine falcon, this year it’s the turn of the house martin.

Goldfinch. Photo by Mick DrydenThe Farmland Monitoring Scheme set up in 2005 and co-ordinated by Dr Glyn Young at Durrell, collects data from 22 transects walked by volunteers every fortnight throughout the year. So far it has collected date from over 3,200 individual site counts as it celebrates the first 10 years of work (watch out on the website for a full report). Other annual surveys organized locally include the Jersey Garden Bird Watch, organised by Action for Wildlife and Birds On The Edge, and various wader, geese and raptor counts which help create a picture of long-term trends of the most well-known species.

In 2013, Birds On The Edge started its own ‘breeding birds survey’, partly to complement these schemes, and partly to fill a gap which was relevant to the project, that is to focus survey efforts on Jersey’s most threatened coastal and farmland birds. This survey pays special attention to endangered species found in the areas of work (north-west and western coasts to start with), such as the stonechat, skylark, lapwing and turtle dove, plus Island-wide species whose status is uncertain such as the kestrel and the starling. The survey also includes other species whose populations seem stable, such as the raven or the peregrine falcon, yet are considered highly vulnerable due to only a small number of breeding pairs.

We are pleased to publish now the report of the 2014 survey (download a copy here). Over the two years of the survey to date, we have found high enough numbers of certain species such as the meadow pipit, linnet, Dartford warbler and common whitethroat, for example, to make it difficult to monitor each breeding pair. This suggests that any changes in the population trends will be, and already are, reliably picked up by long-term monitoring schemes such as the Farmland Monitoring Scheme.

TCirl bunting (8). Photo by Mick Drydenhe majority of resources were placed instead in monitoring the breeding success of our smaller bird populations. Over the course of two years we have seen an increase in the number of stonechat pairs, going from two to six and we have seen the cirl buntings, which returned in 2011, increase to two pairs. The breeding success of one of our most threatened birds, however, the turtle dove, proved difficult to confirm in 2014, although a single pair was seen nest-building. Skylarks seemed also to follow the negative trend of the last few years while lapwings remain at very low numbers, and are not able to reverse their decline of the last few years. In contrast, other small populations, such as that of the raven and the peregrine, do seem more stable at 3-5 breeding pairs.

The 2014 report also recommends a few new species to be included in this year’s (2015) survey, like the sedge warbler and the sand martin, and reminds us to keep a close eye on species that are suffering declines in the UK, such as the kestrel and the common starling, as their present trend in Jersey is anything but clear.

Results from one year to the next have to be taken with much caution and interpreted in the wider context of long-term trends and habitat changes. Having said that, it is important to continue monitoring the small populations that we have in Jersey as they are very vulnerable to rapid extinction events, and any acute dip in the population or any new threat (a disease, a new predator, changes in habitat) will be detected early and might allow us to take action before its too late.

This report was made with the help of many local birdwatchers, local enthusiasts, work colleagues, and the Ornithology Section of the Société Jersiaise. Please download a copy of the 2014 report here

‘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.


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 and follow the project on Facebook. Visit the online map here to track where they are grazing.