Common name

Latin name



Common Bent-grass

Agrostis capillaris

Low Calcium concentrations

Grime, Hodgeson and Hunt (1990)

Sweet Vernal Grass

Anthoxanthum odoratum

Thought to be relatively unpalatable but was formerly included in commercial seed mixtures and is preferred by stock to species such as Festuca ovina, despite the presence of coumarin

Grime, Hodgeson and Hunt, (1990)

Wood False-brome

Brachypodium sylvaticum

A highly unpalatable species

Crofts and   Jefferson (1999)  


Dactylis glomerata

Pasture grass, so relatively palatable?


Tufted Hair-grass

Deschampsia cespitosa

The coarse leaves have a high silica content, and mature leaves are usually avoided by herbivores. As a result, D. cespitosa may thrive as a weed of lowland cattle pasture. However, young foliage may be eaten by horses and rabbits, and in upland areas, where leaves tend to have less silica, the species is grazed freely by cattle, sheep and deer. 

Grime, Hodgeson and Hunt, (1990)

Wavy Hair-grass

Deschampsia flexuosa

Leaves contain low amounts of N and P.  Eaten by sheep and rabbits

Grime, Hodgeson and Hunt, (1990)

Sheep's Fescue

Festuca ovina

Less palatable than some of the other pasture grasses with which it occurs. Grazed extensively by sheep

Grime, Hodgeson and Hunt, (1990)

Yorkshire Fog

Holcus lanatus

Sign of improved pasture

The management of unimproved lowland grassland for nature conservation - Information and Advisory Note Number 11 (Link to SNH site)

Yorkshire Fog

Holcus lanatus

Yorkshire fog has been considered a weed in lowland ryegrass swards because of its low palatability to grazing animals once it begins to flower but there is some  disagreement about this (Watt, 1978; Tansley, 1949). It tends to be less digestible than perennial ryegrass, Lolium perenne (Wilman & Riley, 1993). In drier pasture the plant is hairy and animals avoid it (Morse & Palmer, 1925). In damp pastures, however, it is smoother and is eaten by cattle without objection. Yorkshire fog has been used for land stabilisation and for sheep grazing on soils of low nutrient status (Thompson & Turkington, 1988). Young shoots are readily eaten by stock, digestibility is good and mineral status relatively high but the dry matter content is low

The biology and non-chemical control of Yorkshire fog (Link to external site)

Creeping Soft-grass

Holcus mollis

Does not persist in heavily grazed pasture, as its few robust shoot stems are eaten more quickly than they are replaced

Grime, Hodgeson and Hunt, (1990)

Purple Moor-grass

Molinia caerulea

Tolerant of grazing. Grazing value intermediate between that of Agrostis-Festuca grasslands and impoverished Nardus grasslands. Leaves are deciduous but new growth, fuelled by below-ground carbohydrate reserves, begins in April or May

Grime, Hodgeson and Hunt, (1990)

Purple Moor-grass

Molinia caerulea

Dry matter digestibility reasonably high in late spring/early summer, then declines

Grant and Campbell (1978)

Purple Moor-grass

Molinia caerulea

Usually little grazed

Torvell, Common and  Grant (1988)



Grazing avoidance strategy: have virtually no nutritional value

Colin Legg, personal communication

Blaeberry, Billberry

Vaccinium myrtillus

It was found that the sheep consistently chose to graze the blaeberry swards much more heavily in Autumn than the rest of the year

Welch (1998)

Greater Wood-rush

Luzula sylvatica

Moderately good in vitro digestibility, phenolic compounds not found

Odeyinka (2006)


Pteridium aquilinum

Green bracken is toxic to grazing animals

MacDonald et al (1998)

Additional information

  1. Unpalatable species are sometimes taken depending partly on what else is available, on the stage of plant growth, and on how intimately mixed the unpalatable plants are with more palatable species. The apparency of plants is important. Where a plant of a more palatable species is growing within dense cover of less palatable species it often gains a degree of protection, and vice versa.  MacDonald et al (1998).
  2. Experts ranked species in descending degrees of palatability as follows: Agrostis sp.> Festuca ovina > Deschampsia flexuosa & Anthoxanthum odoratum > Vaccinium myrtillus > mosses. Pollock et al (2007).
  3. Vaccinium myrtillus is preferred to Deschampsia flexuosa. R. Thompson (pers. com)
  4. Geranium sylvaticum, Hedera helix, Lonicera periclymenum, Luzula sylvatica and Rubus fruticosus are more palatable than Oxalis acetosella and Hyacinthoides non-scripta. MacDonald et al (1998).
  5. Very occasionally young bracken fronds are eaten by cattle, apparently with no ill-effect. B. Black (pers. comm)


  1. Crofts, A. and Jefferson, R.G. (eds) (1999) Lowland Grassland Management Handbook. English Nature. 2nd Edition. (Chapter 5, page 10), 
  2. Grime, J.P., Hodgson, J.G. and Hunt, R. (1990) Comparative plant ecology. A functional approach to common British species. Unwin Hyman Ltd.
  3. Grant, S. A. and D. R. Campbell (1978) Seasonal variation in in vitro digestibility and structural carbohydrate content of some commonly grazed plants of blanket bog. Journal of the British Grassland Society 33: 167-173.
  4. MacDonald, A.M., Stevens, P., Armstrong, H.M, Immirzi, P. & Reynolds, P. (1998). A Guide to Upland Habitats. Surveying Land Management Impacts. Scottish Natural Heritage, Battleby.
  5. Odeyinka, S.M., Hector, B.L. and Orskov, E.R. (2006) Nutritive evaluation of some trees and browse species from Scotland. European Journal of Scientific Resear: 14, 311-318.
  6. Pollock, M. L., Legg, C. J., Holland, J.P., and Theobald, C.M. (2007) Assessment of expert opinion: seasonal sheep preference and plant response to grazing. Rangeland Ecology and Management, 60: 125-135
  7. Torvell, L., Common,T. G. and Grant, S.A. (1988) Seasonal patterns of tissue flow and responses of Molinia to defoliation. In: Usher, M.B., Thompson, D.B.A. (Eds). Ecological Change in the Uplands. Special publications series of the British Ecological Society, 7, 219-222.
  8. Welch, D. (1998) Response of bilberry Vacinium myrtillus L. stands in the Derbyshire Peak District to sheep grazing, and implications for moorland conservation. Biological Conservation 83(2): 155-164.