Due to economic pressures and policy changes Lolium perenne‐ Trifolium repens sown swards in upland UK sheep systems are likely to become less intensively managed. We present results from the first 5 yr of a long‐term experiment studying vegetation change under more extensive grazing management at three sites. One treatment was representative of current, intensive management and 5 were unfertilized with different intensities of seasonal grazing. The species composition of unfertilized, ungrazed swards changed dramatically within 2 yr and the sown species had virtually disappeared by year 5. Ranunculus repens, Poa trivialis, Agrostis gigantea, Juncus spp. and Carex spp. became dominant at the wettest site. Grasses were dominant at the other sites. In contrast, the sown species were retained in the unfertilized, grazed treatments; there were small shifts in abundance of the species present initially and few additions or losses of species. Some colonizing species were present in the seed bank whereas others with a transient seed bank appeared to have invaded from neighbouring vegetation. Implications of these results for compensation schemes to reduce animal output and increase biodiversity are discussed.
Nomenclature: Stace (1991)