Published: 1 October 2015
Visit Berry Head National Nature Reserve from 1st November and you might be lucky enough to spot some striking Soay sheep grazing within the North Fort itself. Dog walkers are required to keep their pets on a lead during this time as the sheep are being used as conservation grazers to encourage the growth and longevity of many of the important plants that inhabit the popular headland, which is cared for by local conservation charity Torbay Coast and Countryside Trust.
Conservation grazing by sheep is one of the most effective ways that a diverse habitat like Berry Head can be managed. The small and hardy Soay sheep are an ideal species for eating the scrub and rougher grasses that threaten to overshadow other important and rare plants, as their small size means that they are able to reach the areas less accessible for humans and machinery.
The much loved sheep have been at Berry Head for a while, grazing between the North and South Fort in winter and in the heath areas for the rest of the year. They have been well received on site and there have been very few problems with dogs, but members of the public are asked to take care when walking their pets in the area.
Noel Hughes, Countryside Officer for Torbay Coast and Countryside trust said ‘Grazing is an important tool in the battle to protect our rarest species of wildflower and plant, the sheep will be able to get into areas where it is not safe for staff to go and they keep the grass at just the right length for many species to survive and the scrub that might overcrowd these delicate flowers, at bay. Whilst dogs and livestock are not always a good mix, asking the public to keep their dog on a lead in this area will mean that problems should not occur. I feel with the support of the Friends of Berry Head, many of our regular walkers and the wider community, we can guarantee the safety of the flock and ensure the protection of an area that people cherish.”
Torbay Coast and Countryside Trust, The Friends of Berry Head and staff at the popular Guardhouse Café would like to thank visitors to the site for their continued support of the conservation management of Berry Head National Nature Reserve. Alex and Lucy Foley, who manage the Guardhouse Café said ‘We are looking forward to welcoming the Soay Sheep into the North Fort during the winter months, and hoping to get some early morning, misty photos of them grazing around our picnic benches!’
The Friends of Berry Head are a voluntary group who are passionate about the conservation of the area. A spokesperson for the group said ’The Friends of Berry Head seek to protect, conserve and enhance Berry Head NNR alongside the Torbay Coast and Countryside Trust. Whilst not all of us are dog walkers, although a good many are, we all care deeply about the site and consider ourselves fortunate to live close by and therefore able to enjoy all it has to offer throughout the year. We understand there is a need for grazing to take place from time to time across different areas of the reserve as this directly benefits the many rare and threatened plants that live here. We consider that being able to walk our dogs on a national nature reserve is a privilege. Keeping a dog on a lead in what is a relatively small area and for such a short period of time is a small price to pay for helping to maintain the site for the benefit and enjoyment of everybody who uses it.’
Steven French is the Station Officer at Berry Head Coastguard. He said 'Berry Head Coastguard Cliff Rescue Team regularly attend incidents where dogs have either fallen or become stuck over cliff edges. We advise and urge all dog owners that dogs should be kept on their leads when walking on headlands or coast paths. Dogs are normally chasing wildlife or livestock when they get into trouble. In the event that your dog does get into trouble along the coast, please to not attempt to rescue them yourself. In many cases we have to rescue the owner as well. Please call 999 and ask for the Coastguard.'
Anyone with any questions or concerns should contact a ranger on 01803 882619, or attend an ‘Ask a Ranger’ drop-in session at the Berry Head Visitor Centre. You can also keep up-to-date with what's going on by liking our Facebook page or follow us on Twitter.