Buxted Park is listed, as Grade II, on English Heritage’s listed Park and Garden register. It is also a Site of Special Scientific Interest (SSSI) on account of both its neutral grassland and broadleaved mixed and yew woodland. The neutral grassland has been in poor condition for a long time and work needs to be carried out to help restore it.
Two years ago, with English Heritage and Natural England, Buxted Park have put together a ten-year Management Plan to manage and improve the grassland. Part of the plan included bringing in sheep to graze on the grassland areas, Conservation grazing. Sheep can control a variety of undesirable plants and most breeds will also browse some scrub including birch and dogwood.
‘Conservation grazing’ is the use of grazing animals to manage sites of conservation interest to encourage the wildlife that they support. However, in addition to the needs of the wildlife, those of the livestock must also be borne in mind. Grazing animals need sufficient food and water and must be able to graze a site without risks to their long-term welfare. The interaction between stock and visitors may also need to be considered. Some breeds are more docile than others and cattle or ponies are less likely to be affected by dogs than sheep. Successful conservation grazing thus requires a management regime that meets a variety of considerations including wildlife, welfare and visitor needs.
For those of you who have regularly walked in the Park in the past and still do so will have noticed new fencing being put up in the park and will have seen the sheep grazing. Five lecterns, or notice boards, have been erected explaining the work being done in the Park. You may have also read the notices asking dog walkers to keep their dogs under control and on a lead. Sadly this has not always happened and there have been several cases of dogs worrying sheep. Early in 2010 three pregnant ewes were chased into the water by some dogs and two sheep drowned. In February two more sheep were killed and another one this month. It has been stated that the majority of dog owners are responsible and sadly, as always, it is the minority who do not seem to appreciate the devastation an out of control dog can cause to livestock. The Park receives visitors from outside the immediate area but we hope that all local dog walkers will be responsible ones and other walkers understand the need for some, previously open areas to be fenced off.
Rob Batchelor, who is carrying out much of the work, is working hard to restore the parkland to some of its former glory and has other projects in hand. He has some four hundred cowslip plants waiting to be planted in the park in the grass leading down to the lakes. He is currently looking at a project with the Environment Agency to remove the weir which will enable fish to migrate further upstream. Some areas are fenced off so that the few deer left in the Park have an area where they can be undisturbed and Rob has asked that walkers respect this reasonable request. These are exciting projects and are only a few that are currently being carried out.
We are very lucky to have such a beautiful historic park within our parish and Buxted Park is working hard to restore the parkland as required by the Management Plan and keep it open to the public. Natural England is also very keen to promote public access and was distressed to hear of the sheep worrying incidents. We as a Parish Council hope that everyone can happily use the Park and enjoy watching the improvements, although in grassland cases they can be very subtle!