The benefits of using white clover (Trifolium repens L.) as a source of nitrogen (N) and nutritious feed in pasture grazed by ruminant livestock have been widely recognized. However, clover is considered inadequate and unreliable as the main source of N input, since its abundance in pasture is patchy, low (typically <0·20) and shows great year-to-year variation. This is thought to be due to the metabolic costs of N fixation, competition with grass, the preference for clover by grazing animals and patchy dung and urine deposition. One solution suggested by a number of authors is to increase the heterogeneity within the pasture by spatially separating clover from grass. This method of pasture management, in order to sustain higher clover content in both the sward and diet of grazing animals, would remove inter-specific competition and equalize grazing pressure, allowing clover to grow unimpeded in greater abundance than previously observed. An existing spatially explicit grass–clover simulation model, developed to investigate the intrinsic spatial and temporal variability within mixed grass–clover swards, was modified and then used to examine the impact of spatial separation on the content, variability and patchiness of clover in pasture. The results show that spatial separation increases both the content and spatial aggregation of clover and reduces year-to-year variation compared with a mixed pasture that fluctuates around a lower mean. The same model was also used to examine the impact of spatial separation across a range of spatial scales, from narrow strips to complete separation, as a means of managing the concerns over disruption to the N cycle within the pasture. The present study shows the importance of the initial sowing arrangement of plant species in sustaining a high content of clover within a pasture in the short term, to at least 20 years depending on the scale of separation, and demonstrates that the spatial separation of clover from grass within a grazed pasture may overcome some of the limitations associated with the use of clover in conventional grass–clover pastures. Results are discussed in terms of benefits to both herbage dry matter production and animal performance.