Plans to return sheep to the sand dunes of Les Blanches Banques and grazing to revitalise the grasslands
By Tim Liddiard
Les Blanches Banques
The sand dunes of Les Blanches Banques, set in and around St Ouen’s Bay in St Brelade and at the heart of the Jersey National Park is recognised biologically as being one the richest sites of its kind in the Island and has been described as ‘undoubtedly one of the premier dune systems in Europe for its scientific interest’. As the most extensive area of sandy soils in Jersey, the dunes support good populations of many animals and plants on the Island that are not found elsewhere.
During the Medieval period, the dune grasslands were used for sheep grazing and stacking sea weed to dry, the latter was used as fertiliser, or was burnt on the dunes to produce potash.
In the absence of a grazing regime on the sand dunes in recent years, due to the processes of seral succession it is evident that the important grasslands habitats are being subsumed by the spread of mixed scrub.
Currently an amount of grazing is being provided by rabbits but not at a level sufficient to halt or reverse the loss of the important dune grasslands, a key habitat in the Biodiversity Strategy for Jersey 2000 and home to a number of notable plants and a host of other wildlife.
A total of over 400 plant species have been recorded on Les Blanches Banques, many being unique or special to our shores.
Some of the plants found on the sand dunes which are recognised as being of scientific interest include the lizard orchid, with its flower resembling its reptile namesake; the dwarf pansy, in Great Britain only found on the Isles of Scilly and the Channel Islands, the heath dog violet which is Near Threatened in the UK and the sand crocus with its diminutive mauve flower.
Amphibians and reptiles enjoy life on the sand dunes, which harbours five of Jersey’s seven species. Palmate newt and slow worm are present but a visitor from mainland Britain will perhaps be more excited by the exotic looking green lizard with its emerald and aquamarine colouring. Also the western toad is found here rather than the common toad of Britain and northern Europe. The grass snake can be seen here on occasion, they are one of Jersey’s rarest animals and the sand dunes remains one of their few strongholds.
The blue winged grasshopper, the firebug, the Queen of Spain fritillary butterfly, the lesser bloody-nosed beetle, exuding a minute drop of blood when alarmed and the sand bear wolf spider which ambushes its prey from the entrance of its burrow are all invertebrates of particular interest to Jersey and our sand dunes.
The skylark, a ground nesting bird with an enchanting song is in decline across Europe and is a local Action Plan species, as is the stonechat, a bird whose call resembles the sound of two pebbles being knocked together. The chough, one of the great successes of the Birds On The Edge partnership is known to forage on the sand dunes and the conservation of the grasslands along with the addition of dung and its associated invertebrates will help provide these wonderful birds with an ongoing food source.
It is accepted best conservation practice to graze stabilised dune systems with livestock and the purpose of this project is to trial the grazing of Manx loaghtan sheep in scrub habitats and adjacent grasslands. These habitats have an abundance of burnet rose and other plant species which are becoming dominant over the more desirable dune vegetation which includes orchids, dwarf pansies, sand crocus and much more.
The area selected for initial grazing trials is on the escarpment north of La Moye Golf Club in an area known as Le Carriere. A combination of winter and summer grazing is the ideal, providing the chance to control holm oaks and other evergreens during the winter months and stripping foliage from other target plants (including privet, blackthorn and burnet rose) during the summer. Throughout the project the sheep’s food preferences will be constantly monitored with the hope that they will target the more undesirable plant species.
The sheep are planned to be on site from late February until May 2022.
Importantly, this area currently attracts a low level of public access and will not have a large impact on where people are able to walk.
Our thanks are extended to La Moye Golf Club for allowing the fenceline to tie into their existing fence which allows for a larger area to be grazed.
Benefits to habitats
• To prevent and reverse grassland succession towards mixed scrub within areas being grazed
• To maintain and increase plant species diversity within these areas and encourage some bare ground
• To introduce and maintain age mosaics throughout gorse and scrub dominated communities
• To encourage the reinstatement of species rich grassland especially in grassland ‘islands’ which are contained within the scrub area which are being lost to scrub
• To trial which plant species the Manx loaghtans forage on the most, thereby identifying their effectiveness in the control of scrub intrusion onto dune grassland habitats.
Benefits to species
• To provide bare ground for seed germination of dune grassland associated herbs and grasses
• To provide bare ground for associated invertebrate species
• To identify the effects of Manx loaghtan foraging behaviour on particular plant species , notably burnet rose, bracken, privet and blackthorn
• This area is recognised as being important for grass snakes and the creation of grass glades amongst the scrub will provide welcome basking areas for them
• There is a strong association and reliance between foraging choughs and short grassland, especially when grazing livestock and their dunging encourage the presence of dung beetles.