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The Country Enterprise Handbook
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Land Use

>..Permanent Pasture

...New Leys
...Fertilisation of Grassland
...Farmyard Manure
...Make or Buy?
...Crop Rotation
...Why Rotate?

There are 5 million hectares of permanent pasture in Britain. Often this is found on banks and slopes that it would be impossible to cultivate regularly by machine. Much pasture on steep slopes and hills, however picturesque, is poor in food value. It provides grazing for deer, sheep and some cattle. The grasses are mainly fescues and bents. This kind of pasture needs constant grazing to prevent it from returning to its natural state of growing sedges, heather and bracken. Even real moorland, covered in heather and bracken, requires some management to maintain its value.

Now that labour is being reduced on many moors and gamekeepers no longer regularly burn the heather to keep the growth down, fires take a disastrous hold. The leggy heather stalks fuel a raging fire that burns right through the underlying peat itself. This leaves only bare rocks and stones and provides no foothold at all for grasses. This reduces the moor's capacity for grazing sheep and deer and also alters the landscape.

Good permanent pasture consists mainly of ryegrass and clover. It can also be picturesque Constable-type landscapes with slow flowing rivers. The surrounding fields were once rich with cow slips, orchids and chirruping grasshoppers. Today many of the grasshoppers have been exterminated. The high cost of land requires heavy stocking on summer grazing. Thick grass growth means no bare patches in the sward. This deprives the grasshopper of the open area it requires in the egglaying stage of its life cycle. So gradually the grasshoppers fall prey to our intensive use of the land.

Our forbears used to graze their animals heavily into the autumn using up the last of the cheapest feedstuff, grass. We no longer do this as grazing to the roots can impair next year's grass crop. This means that winter light does not reach the low-lying leaf rosettes of field weeds such as green-winged orchids and cowslips. These plants manufacture much of their food during Winter and early Spring. No light: no cowslips, and so our landscape changes again.

Permanent pasture can be improved by harrowing and scarifying to spread unevenly deposited dung and remove dead matter clogging the roots. Many of the fields used for grazing today would once have been reserved for hay; they would then have been referred to as meadows and those that carried stock were called pasture. Probably the meadows would have been grazed after the hay was cut. The concept of cutting only hay from an expensive acre of ground is not often practised today.