Grassland Management

Darland Banks, Kent Wildlife Trust (c) Ray Lewis

Wildlife-rich grasslands are vital natural resources: for bees and other pollinators, and for an abundance of nature that depends on wild grasses and flowers - from butterflies to barn owls. They help protect our rivers from pollution, hold together healthy soils that store carbon, and enable landscapes to retain water to reduce flooding.

Before the influence of humans, grasslands filled with billowing grasses, colourful wild flowers and the hum of insects were only found in natural clearings in woodlands, above the treeline and at the coast. But once people began clearing woodlands for farming, grasslands flourished and were used for grazing livestock and hay production.

For instance, it's estimated that we've lost 80% of our chalk grassland over the last 60 years, and only 1,600 hectares of precious floodplain meadows are left in the whole of the UK.

Across the UK Wildlife Trusts are working to ensure that traditional management techniques are not lost to the mists of time. Have a look below for advice and information on a wide range of grasslands and how to manage them. 

Grassland Management - Worcestershire Wildlife Trust

Worcestershire Wildlife Trust is the lowland county in England with the highest proportion of its land area still under flower-rich meadows and pastures.

Their nature reserves include some of the best examples in the UK of traditionally managed lowland hay-meadows, which puts them in an ideal position to advise on grassland management.

On their grassland page is a downloable Landowner’s Guide to Recognition, Management & Restoration, which provides advice to those interested in preserving and maintaining important grassland heritage. There is also a downloadable PDF explaining how Local Wildlife Sites are protecting grasslands.

Restoring meadows by 'green haying' - Devon Wildlife Trust

Dart Raffe Moor was drained and ‘improved’ for agriculture in the 1960s, and the landowner was keen to reverse this, and see the insects and birds that he remembered from his youth, return to the meadows.

An innovative technique known as ’green-haying’ was then used to import seed into the site for the initial phase, and this same method was then used to disperse wildflower species across the remainder of the moor. 

Information on how this was achieved, and the benefits to the land, are available from Devon Wildlife Trust. 

Grassland restoration through 'soil stripping' - Devon Wildlife Trust

Species-rich grassland cannot be re-created where the phosphate levels in the soil are too high, as rank grasses are able to outcompete the more delicate wildflowers.

Dunsdon Farm is a 22ha private farm between two parts of the Dunsdon National Nature Reserve (NNR) in the headwaters of the Tamar river catchment in NW Devon. The land had been agriculturally “improved” and the elevated phosphate levels in the soil were preventing the restoration of this uniquely located site.

In 2009, a thin layer of topsoil was stripped off the surface of the fields and the bare site was then sown with a specialist wildflower seed mix. This extraordinary process is documented by Devon Wildlife Trust.

Cut & Chew Project - Beds, Cambs & Northants Wildlife Trust

BCN Wildlife Trust’s Cut & Chew Project, aims to ensure the long-term survival of Bedfordshire, Cambridgeshire and Northamptonshire's permanent grasslands, by promoting good management, restoration and appreciation of them.

Via this brilliant website, landowners can access many resources including, but not limited to:

- Register any available grazing land or stock in need of extra grazing
- Register baled hay for sale or their animal's hay requirements
- Register their grassland as a potential site for making hay
- Peruse the information page
- Find local contractors to erect fencing in grassland
- Find out about the different grassland habitats in the region
- Receive a free site visit from a Wildlife Sites Officer

Hay Meadow Management - Cumbria Wildlife Trust

Cumbria Wildlife Trust's page on their hay meadow project, Meadow Life, has oodles of information on the hay meadows.

Funded by the Heritage Lottery fund, Meadow Life will be running until April 2016. 

With 39 landowners involved in the Meadow Life project and over 132 hectares of meadow, Cumbria Wildlife Trust are working closely with farmers, smallholders, community groups and volunteers to restore and manage these sites.

There are so many interesting and useful resources, so don't miss out! Everything from the wildlife found on hay meadows, to a guide to managing grasslands for smallholders, to how to get involved with the project is included.

Neutral Grassland Management - Kent Wildlife Trust

There are many different types of grassland, including neutral grassland.  Species-rich neutral grassland is found on neutral clay and alluvial soils with a pH between 5.5 and 6.5,

This downloadable PDF from Kent Wildlife Trust discusses the importance of species-rich neutral grassland, management practices, plants and animal associated with this habitat and advice for livestock usage. 

 

Chalk Grassland Management - Kent Wildlife Trust

Chalk grassland is one of the richest habitats of Western Europe, containing a great diversity of plants and animals. It is now very rare and fragmented, and is of international conservation importance.

Up until the Second World War, traditional grazing practices ensured that grasslands were grazed at a low intensity, wildlife friendly manner, resulting in habitats which were botanically very diverse. Since then, traditionally managed
wildflower-rich grasslands such as neutral, acid and chalk grasslands have declined nationally by 97% due to 'improvements' in farming techniques.

Kent Wildlife Trust have produced a PDF which discusses the management of this precious habitat.

Acid Grassland Management - Kent Wildlife Trust

Acid grassland occurs on free-draining, nutrient-poor soils such as sandstones and gravels. The diversity of plant and animal species found tends to be lower than on other grasslands, but these species are more specialised and able to cope with a low soil pH of between 3.5 and 6.0 and an usually short, open vegetation structure. 

Acid grassland often occurs in a mosaic with other habitats such as heathland, bog, or along woodland rides.

Download the PDF from Kent Wildlife Trust to find out further information on conserving this habitat.