Why our wildlife-rich grasslands matter

Culm grassland cpt Devon Wildlife Trust

Whilst much of our landscape is characterised by patchworks of green fields, most of these fields have been transformed by modern agricultural methods – re-seeded with a single grass species or changed by the addition of fertilisers or lime.

As well as their inherent wildlife value and beauty, these vibrant gems have other less obvious but important qualities

'Unimproved' pastures and meadows with their characteristic wealth of wild plants and animals are rare and fragmented – occupying just 5% of their 1945 area.  As well as their inherent wildlife value and beauty, these vibrant gems have other less obvious but important qualities.  They store water, filter pollutants, help reduce soil erosion, are hotspots for pollinators and a myriad other creatures.  Beneath them are precious soils storing carbon and seedbanks of native plants. 

A recent study in Devon has shown how semi-natural grasslands act as filters to capture soil particles and nutrients from fertilisers before they reach and harm our rivers and reservoirs.  Areas of a rare kind of marshy grassland called Culm grassland were compared with areas that had been drained and agriculturally 'improved'.  At one study site water level recording found that a metre of well drained ‘improved’ pasture holds 47 litres of water, whilst an adjacent area of pristine Culm grassland holds an amazing 269 litres per square metre.  Such results suggest that well-managed Culm grassland may attenuate downstream flood risk more than either intensively managed grasslands or Culm grasslands that have scrubbed-up.  But a recent report on Devon’s State of Nature concluded that only 27% of remaining Culm grasslands in Devon are in good condition.