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The Wicken Fen Vision (Cambridgeshire, UK) is a landscape-scale habitat restoration project that uses process-driven, open-ended approaches to develop habitats on highly degraded and drained peat soils of former intensive arable land. The project land is extensively grazed with herds of free-roaming, minimally managed herds of Highland cattle and Konik horses. In one 119 ha area, seven 25m x 25 m grazing exclosures were erected and vascular plant species were recorded from 2007 to 2017. Plant species data were analysed to (1) compare changes in plant species composition and diversity in grazed and ungrazed areas; (2) use plant species traits and plant-environment associations to explore the nature of changes in plant composition; (3) use remote sensing to explore changes in vegetation structure; (4) examine the influence of land use histories on grazing outcomes in different parts of the site.
There was a clear divergence through time between grazed and ungrazed areas, attributed to significantly greater canopy height, Ellenberg L (Light) and Ellenberg N (fertility) values within the exclosures. Species richness was significantly higher in grazed compared with ungrazed areas and species assemblages separated through the study period. After ten years, extensive free-roaming grazing has had significant impacts on vegetation structure and species richness but effects varied across the study site because of differing historical land use.
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