‘Horses for gorses’: Hen Harrier Project running mob grazing trial to manage gorse

The Hen Harrier Project is running a trial on using mob grazing of horses and goats to manage gorse.

Gorse, or furze, is a common shrub, which can “add diversity to the landscape”.

However, those running the trial said that “there are situations where management is required”.

In a post on social media, the project explained that gorse is difficult to deal with and that some approaches “are potentially very damaging”.

“While gorse burns easily, its height means that fires can be difficult to control and easily get out of hand.

Spring burning poses an enormous risk to nesting birds not just in the gorse, but also in adjacent habitats if the fire spreads.

“The use of diggers or excavators is not much better. Both methods lead to the germination of large numbers of dormant gorse seeds. The result is that the plant re-establishes very quickly leading to a cycle of destruction and recovery.”

‘We have to offer farmers alternatives’

The horses have been busy “breaking down branches and stripping off bark” since last week. The goats will be arriving in around a week, and the project said that “hopefully the horses will have left some gorse behind for them to finish off”.

“We have to offer farmers alternatives and so, we are trialing mob grazing,” the project said.

At this time of year there is little nutrition in the grass, but the sap is rising in the gorse bushes and the bark can be very attractive to browsers.

“The horses are provided with water, mineral blocks and get some ration every day. If they need some hay, it will be provided as well.”

The Hen Harrier Project works with local communities to support agriculture in the delivery of environmental action, including hen harrier conservation. It is Europe’s “largest species-focused, results-based” farming innovation.