A 4-year (2010–2013) plot study was undertaken to evaluate the effect of nitrogen (N) fertilizer rate (0, 60, 120, 196 and 240 kg N/ha/year) on seasonal responses and species persistency in frequently and tightly grazed (⩽4 cm) grass-only (GO) and grass white clover swards (GWc). Increasing N application rate increased herbage removed and pre-grazing sward height. Cows frequently grazed the GWc tighter than the GO. Increasing N rate reduced clover content, especially during the warmest months of the year, but less so up to 120 kg N/ha/year. The GWc had greater amounts of herbage removed than GO in the May–September period but the effect was less as N rate increased. Cumulative herbage removed from GWc was greater than GO swards receiving the same N rate and herbage quality was better in GWc than GO. Such effects were reduced as swards aged and with increasing N rate. It was concluded that under frequent and tight grazing management: (1) clover inclusion increased annual herbage removed; (2) herbage removed from GWc swards receiving no N was the same as the GO sward receiving 240 kg N/ha, and greater for the 240 GWc swards than the 240 GO swards; (3) clover inclusion benefits were mainly from summer onwards; (4) the management strategy applied in the current experiment may be capable of alleviating the detrimental effect of N fertilizer on clover, to a point between 60 and 120 kg N/ha.