Characterisation of extensive beef cattle systems: disparities between opinions, practice and policy

J Morgan-Davies, C Morgan-Davies, ML Pollock, JP Holland, A Waterhouse

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

14 Citations (Scopus)


Increasing pressure on extensive farming systems in marginal areas requires them to become more resilient and adaptable to extreme conditions brought about by climate change. Yet these rangeland areas must also be protected as refuges for biodiversity and as important carbon stores. Recent United Kingdom policy initiatives are encouraging the use of traditional or native breeds of livestock to preserve genetic diversity, due to their perceived adaption to harsh environments and their value for managing extensive habitats for conservation. It is not clear however, whether these benefits are based on scientific evidence or perhaps more on current opinion; nor whether farm system practices are likely to change in response to these initiatives. This study offers an approach that can support future empirical studies designed to better inform such policy decisions. A survey was carried out to provide insight into current opinions regarding the impacts of cattle on hill environments and the cattle breeds appropriate for hill environments, before more detailed farm interviews provided data for a characterisation of suckler beef farming systems in Scotland using a typo-logical approach. Survey results indicated that the majority of respondents believed cattle have a positive effect on hill environments when carefully managed, yet there was wide diversity in opinion regarding the type of impacts and most suitable breeds. Interview results highlighted the diversity of management systems, decision making processes and cattle types present and indicated significant variation in farmers’ views regarding breed hardiness, suitability and reasons for their choice of breed. Three system groups: Traditionalists, Improvers and Production optimisers, were clearly defined by the typology, with significant variation observed in their management practices and views. This study suggests that hill beef farmers appear to not only adapt their production systems according to their current bio-physical and financial circumstances, but also from personal experience. Accumulation of this kind of evidence is long overdue and could provide support to the development of any future policies regarding cattle and hill environments.© 2014 Elsevier Ltd. All rights reserved.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)707 - 718
Number of pages12
JournalLand Use Policy
Publication statusFirst published - 2014

Bibliographical note



  • Cattle systems
  • Farm typology
  • Hill farming
  • Native breeds


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