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Under-grazed v Over-grazed — 2 Comments

  1. Jonathan, how does this tie into the grazing on the commons vs on the crofts? I was thinking the crofts were overgrazed so the commons were being used but I must be confused.

    • Two different considerations. The shift of the livestock to the hill during summer is to allow the crofts are chance to re-grow, but also historically to keep free-roaming animals away from hay, oats, potatoes and such like. (Working ponies and milk cows would be tethered.) As a general rule the vegetation – the grazing – is better the lower the altitude, so the animals prefer to be lower down, whether on the crofts or on the commons. Thus during the winter they tend to hang around down near the shore and the houses (and of course the convenience of the crofters is a factor in this, especially in bad winter weather!). In summer the sheep (and Eriskay ponies) tend to be found down near the hill fence, rather than up on the heights, and that’s partly because there’s very little water to drink higher up. As time has gone by, the island has become more ‘urbanized’ (a relative concept!) and the changes in attitudes to livestock that goes with that means there’s pressure to set a date in autumn for return of the sheep from the hills to the crofts a month or so later than was the case in the past, and unfortunately it is that extra month that has done all the damage, as the sheep are still grazing after the grass has more or less stopped growing. The commons require a long rest over the winter to recover from summer grazing – and they aren’t getting it. Climate change may also be a factor, also the trend towards fewer but larger flocks, which tend to result in grazing being uneven across the whole of the hill.

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