Lowland Dry Acid Grassland - Thorpe Hay Meadow - Surrey WT
What is it?
Often associated with lowland heathlands, parklands or coastal cliffs, lowland acid grassland typically occurs on nutrient-poor, free-draining soils with a pH ranging from 4 to 5.5. These soils overlie acid rocks or deposits such as sands and gravels. Lowland acid grassland is found below an altitude of 300 metres and is normally managed as pasture.
Lowland dry acid grassland is extremely variable in terms of its species richness, but it’s not uncommon for plants such as heath bedstraw and sheep’s sorrel to grow alongside heather, grasses and sedges. The uplifting song of the skylark fills the daytime air, while the distinctive churring of nightjars disrupts the summer evening quiet. In summer, the sands buzz with the burrowing of solitary bees and wasps, and in autumn, brightly coloured waxcaps poke up through the turf.
Where is it found?
It is estimated that less than 30,000 hectares of lowland acid grassland now remain in UK. Important concentrations occur in the Breckland, the New Forest, Dorset, Suffolk Sandlings, the Weald, Dungeness, the coasts of south-west England and the Welsh and English border hills of Powys and Shropshire. Extensive areas of acid grassland are included within sites designated as common land.
Why is it important?
The tussocky vegetation and bare ground that characterises lowland acid grassland allow a wide range of invertebrates to thrive including solitary wasps, butterflies and grasshoppers. Many of the invertebrates that occur in acid grassland are specialists, and a number are rare such as the field cricket (a UK BAP priority species).
The most characteristic herb and grass species are heath bedstraw, wavy hair-grass, sheep’s fescue, common bent, pill sedge and tormentil. Dwarf shrubs, such as heather and bilberry, may also be present, while unusual fungi, such as fairy-clubs and earth-tongues, are commonly found due to the low nutrient status.
Acid grasslands can have a high cover of bryophytes and parched acid grassland can be rich in lichens. Parched acid grassland, in particular, contains a significant number of rare and scarce plants such as mossy stonecrop, smooth rupturewort, slender bird`s-foot-trefoil and spring speedwell.
Bird species of conservation concern use acid grassland for breeding or wintering and include woodlark, stone-curlew, lapwing, chough, hen harrier and merlin. Adders and other reptiles bask on the bare ground, and small heath butterflies dance between flowers.
Is it threatened?
Like many of our other lowland habitats, lowland acid grassland is under threat from intensive agriculture including the use of fertilisers, herbicides and pesticides, liming, reseeding or ploughing for arable crops. Poor management including overgrazing and neglect can lead to rank vegetation and scrub encroachment, while activities like afforestation, mineral extraction, landfill and development cause massive losses.
Recreation also has effects on this habitat, disturbing wildlife and causing compaction and erosion of the soil.
How are The Wildlife Trusts helping?
The Wildlife Trusts make a significant contribution to the protection of lowland acid grassland by managing nature reserves which contain it sympathetically and by providing advice to landowners and farmers on how to look after these fragile places.
Left to its own devices, lowland acid grassland would deteriorate, resulting in the loss of many much-loved species. So The Wildlife Trusts are involved in many projects to restore these habitats through improved grazing regimes, scrub-cutting and raising awareness about their value for both wildlife and people.
What can I do to help?
- Take part in conservation measures on your land – ask your local Wildlife Trust for advice on grazing and management methods for acid grasslands.
- The Wildlife Trusts are working to protect and restore grasslands for wildlife across the UK, you can support our work by becoming a member of your local Trust
- Volunteer with The Wildlife Trusts and help your local grassland wildlife; you could be involved in everything from scrub-cutting to butterfly surveying.
- Support wildlife-friendly, traditionally managed farms by purchasing meat and wool products direct from local farms.