A range of grazing animals, from cattle to wild horses can be found on site at certain times of the year. In order to mimic the natural behaviour of migrating animals and to allow for nectar plants to grow and flower for invertebrate interest they are brought on and taken off the site throughout the year. These animals roam free through the site unhindered by fencing. Their behaviour is fascinating to watch as at different times of the day, and particular times of the year, they seek out different plants to feed on in various locations.
The rides and areas cleared by the Forestry Commission are being maintained using a range of tradition methods including grazing. It is hoped that this will produce a diverse matrix of habitats including the rare chalk heathland, heather can be found after many years of shading out. It is the intention of the project to find animals that will selectively browse bramble, gorse and saplings to allow this rare habitat to establish. This directly connects us to the National Nature Reserve of Lullington Heath next door.
Working hand-in-hand with the grazing animals are natural processes such as wind and drought. Much of Friston Forest is, for example, dominated by beech, a type of tree that struggles and eventually weakens if there are prolonged spells of dry weather. You will see gaps created by windblown trees and fallen branches, which is a point of renewal in the forest as it creates an opportunity for the specialist insects and fungi that feed on decaying or dead wood. It might also create a gap in the canopy that can be colonised by plants and tree seedlings that thrive in open woodland, diversifying a sparse understorey.
Grazing and browsing by a range of animals such as long horn cattle and konik ponies, in combination with natural processes such as wind, drought and fungal decay, creates an intimate and shifting mosaic of habitats. These conditions are ideal for a very wide range of plants and animals. These include birds such as the nightingale which thrives in areas of dense scrub and butterflies such as the silver-spotted skipper which are found on areas of very short grassland.