Pasturelands management

An annual management regime is important to maintaining and developing permanent grasslands. Grasslands are normally managed as either pastures (animal grazing) or hay meadows.

The way grasslands are managed affects not only their diversity and productivity, but also the extent to which they nourish soil organisms.

The resource degradation associated with unmanaged grazing often leads to well-intentioned requests for permanent "grazing exclusion". However, grasslands and grazers have co-evolved over millions of years, and grasslands NEED grazers, be they kangaroos, elephants, termites or sheep, to facilitate energy flow and the recycling of nutrients. In medium to low rainfall areas, grasses which are not grazed become senescent and cease to grow productively (McNaughton 1979). If all herbivores are excluded, the health of the grassland declines over time.

The use of fire as an alternative method of biomass removal and growth stimulation may appear attractive, but results in atmospheric pollution, the loss of many nutrients which would be recycled in the grazing process, loss of surface litter, and, if used frequently, bare ground with a capped soil surface which inhibits the infiltration of rainfall (Savory 1988). Landholders may occasionally have valid reasons to use fire, such as woody weed control, or the enhancement of fire-dependent species. However, in view of the risks, fire is a tool which should be used cautiously and infrequently.

Managed grazing is arguably the only natural process by which grasslands can be "improved" on a sustainable basis. Unmanaged grazing, or complete exclusion from grazing, will inexorably (whether it be quickly or slowly) lead to desertification in all but the high rainfall areas (Savory 1988). To achieve healthy grasslands in medium to low rainfall areas, stock need to bunched into large mobs and moved frequently (Savory 1988).