Changing livestock numbers in the UK Less Favoured Areas – an analysis of likely biodiversity implications

Paul Silcock speaking to land owner in field

Client: RSPB

Cumulus Consultants was commissioned by the RSPB to assess the likely biodiversity implications of changes in cattle and sheep grazing in the Less Favoured Areas (LFA) within England, Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland.


During the year-long project, we analysed agriculture and site condition data for the LFA at the finest level possible, reviewed literature, undertook a survey of expert opinion, and produced a series of eight case studies from around the UK.

The report, presents trends in livestock numbers and grazing pressure in each country, illustrated by maps and graphs. This is supplemented by an analysis of key changes, regional variations, and influencing factors. This data is complemented by a summary of expert opinion and findings from the case studies. The report concludes with policy and other recommendations to support positive grazing regimes in the LFA.

Findings and recommendations

Key findings include:

  • A reduction in grazing livestock numbers, particularly sheep, over the past ten years
  • Considerable variation from region to region
  • Less cattle and mixed grazing, and less hefting and shepherding
  • A polarisation between semi-natural areas and improved areas.

Key recommendations include:

  • Develop a positive, holistic and long term vision for the LFA
  • Ensure CAP payments support public goods and sustainable farming systems.
  • Develop better targeted, locally responsive agri-environment schemes.
  • Retain and promote the skills required for positive grazing and land management.

Key benefits

  • Mapped and analysed grazing livestock trends across the UK LFA for the first time
  • Highlighted the complexity of the relationship between livestock grazing and biodiversity
  • Defined positive grazing regimes and their value for wildlife and ecosystem services
  • Identified the need for a vision and better support for livestock farming in the uplands


The full report can be accessed here:

This research has helped us develop our understanding of grazing in the uplands and its central role in securing the future of some of our best loved wildlife and habitats.

Abi Burns, RSPB