SHRUB eating sheep and cattle grazing near Gainsborough have helped break national targets restoring lost habitat.

The fock of Hebridean sheep and herd of Dexter cattle have grazed 50 hectares of shrub covered ground at Laughton Forest as part of the largest heathland restoration project in the East Midlands.

During the first year heather and the plant sundew have returned with grazing securing the unique inland sand dune system at the Forestry Commission site, which is surrounded by 10,000 metres of stock fencing.

The work is part of the 1.5m Coversands Heathland - Restoring the Cover project, launched 12-months-ago to nationally restore 700 hectares of lowland heath and create 250 hectares of new heath over five years.

Led by English Nature and backed by statutory bodies and local authorities - the project has already beaten all of its first year's targets and some five-year benchmarks - securing 1100 hectares of historic Coversands.

The scheme has received 376,000 from the Heritage Lottery Fund's Tomorrow's Heathland Heritage and 226,000 from English Nature's Aggregate Levy Sustainability Fund.

Project manager Craig Thomas said: "It has been a fantastic year. The interest and enthusiasm shown by local landowners has been brilliant.

"On top of the habitat management success, we have had hundreds of people out on guided walks, doing volunteer work and learning about heathland habitats. They have even learned how to look after Hebridean sheep."