There are a number of advantages of grazing over other forms of heathland management, and research suggests that grazing animals do a better job at keeping heathland in good condition than mechanical means ever could. In particular, the use of grazing animals is a sustainable method of restoring the vegetation structure and diversity of heathland. The grazing at Litcham is closely modelled on the use of Dartmoor ponies on the Norfolk Wildlife Trust’s Roydon Common nature reserve, and the Wildlife Trust has provided a considerable amount of ongoing management advice and assistance.
The reintroduction of grazing at Litcham was proposed as part of a management plan drawn up in 2001, but it was not until 2008 that the necessary permissions and funding were obtained so that the area of the common to the north west of Dunham road could be fenced.
Our four Dartmoor ponies arrived in June 2008 and proved very successful at keeping the vegetation under control, as well as a popular attraction with the public. Consequently, a decision was made to pursue plans to extend grazing over the whole of Litcham Common, by ring-fencing the perimeter of the entire site and installing cattle grids at either end of where the Dunham road bisects the common. We had a stand at Litcham fete, to explain the plans to local residents.
The highway authority (Norfolk County Council) considered the proposals carefully and at length, before agreeing to support the plans for cattle grids, provided the full cost was met by Litcham Common Management Committee. In June 2011 SITA Trust offered a substantial grant towards the scheme, and after consulting with Litcham Parish Council, and within the village, the Management Committee decided to proceed.
What’s new in 2018?
Following the installation of the cattle grids in 2012 we have overall been very pleased with the way in which the conservation grazing scheme has been working. However, 2016 began on a sad note after one of our ponies was hit by a car and subsequently had to be put down by the vet. We have two new ponies lined up to bring the “herd” back up to an optimum size. These are Dartmoor ponies which have the right qualities of hardiness and an appetite for the rough grazing found on the common, and the Dartmoor Pony Heritage Trust has found them for us. We are therefore hoping to welcome “Nigel” and “Joshua’s Lad” to the common this spring.
Last year we had some Hereford cattle grazing the common over the summer months and this proved very successful; the animals thrived and proved very placid and good natured, with no problems reported. The ponies and cattle complement each other with their different grazing techniques and this helps maintain a diversity of vegetation. The cattle were owned by a local farmer who has some more he would like to put on the common this year. The likelihood is that we will have cattle on the common from April or May through to September. The cattle will only be used on a seasonal basis in order to ensure that there is enough vegetation remaining to feed the ponies over the winter months.
Over the past few years a significant number of trees have been felled in accordance with our management statement drawn up by the Norfolk Wildlife Trust and as part of our Higher Level Stewardship (HLS) agreement with Natural England. A comparatively small number of trees still need to be felled and there is also some ‘tidying up’ work to be done, such as cutting stumps down to ground level. We would like to thank those involved in the tree felling, several of whom are from Litcham. We are fortunate to have had the work carried out by skilled individuals who are sympathetic to the site and our nature conservation aims. A copy of the 2017 management statement can be found via a link at the top of the Litcham Common Management page of this website.
There has been a lot of change on the common as we seek to reset the balance between heathland and woodland. In 2013 Norfolk Wildlife Services carried out a survey of plant species found on the common and this exercise was repeated in 2016. The changes between 2013 and 2016 were notable with the number of species increasing across all areas and communities surveyed, which is very encouraging. Looking ahead, management work will always be required to complement the grazing, but a lot has been achieved in recent years and we are confident that the common is in a good position to flourish in the future, both for the benefit of wildlife and local people.
In addition to the HLS money received from Natural England, the project has been grant funded by SITA Trust, which distributes money from the Landfill Communities Fund – this is money that has been set aside for environmental projects within ten miles of a landfill site (in Litcham’s case, Beetley). Other one-off grants have been received from Norfolk County Council and the Norfolk Biodiversity Partnership, together with donations from private individuals for which the Management Committee is very grateful.
2012: Our vision becomes reality!
Following the display of legal notices in October 2011, formal consent for the cattle grids was obtained in November 2011. Work on site started in February 2012 with the clearance of roadside trees and scrub by Robin Woodley and his merry men. They were back again in August, pulling out all the stops to get the trees felled and off-site during the ‘window’ of a few days when the road was closed, but not yet dug up
The purpose of this work was twofold:
- a) to create areas of clear visibility for motorists, so as to minimise the risk of vehicles colliding with livestock; and
- b) to help recreate the historical open look of the common and reconnect the remaining areas of open heath.
In May 2012, the ever obliging David Harris of Dunham Diggers worked with skill and precision to install our first cattle grid, on the track that leads to Kempstone.
Norfolk County Council was responsible for the design and installation of the two cattle grids on the public road. These were installed by May Gurney in August 2012. The men seemed to enjoy working on a job that was a little different, despite having to contend with all the motorists who thought that ‘Road Closed’ signs did not apply to them!
Stoker Stock Fencing made a first class job of putting up perimeter fencing and gates around the area of the common to the south-east of Dunham road, plus a small area near the newly extended car park. They were friendly and adaptable, and took an obvious pride in their work.
A grand opening ceremony took place on 4 September 2012, once the final sections of fencing had been joined up to the newly installed cattle grids. Neil Foster made a short speech outlining the history of Litcham Common and paying tribute to the many organisations and individuals who contributed to the grazing project. Raz Woollacott then cut the ribbon so that the gates could be opened to enable the ponies to cross the road for the first time. We were particularly pleased that Raz was able to attend; several years ago he was Norfolk County Council’s Countryside Officer who came up with the initial proposals to graze the common. Now retired, Raz was absolutely delighted to return to Litcham and discover that his vision had become a reality. We enjoyed some homemade cakes and coffee while watching the ponies explore their new territory. Meanwhile Les, Micky and Connor of Stoker Stock Fencing set to work taking down the roadside fencing, much to the delight of the Open Spaces Society, (see their press release here) represented on the day by Joy Boldero.
Later that day the Eastern Daily Press came along to take some photos.
Photographs: Matthew Usher, Eastern Daily Press