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Meadows and Pastures


									HABITATS                           HABITATS
Meadows and

Introduction                     Wales is a land of meadows and pastures, a patchwork of green fields on lowland
                                 farms and extensive tracts of rough grazing in the uplands. With 1.3 million cattle
Grasslands, ancient and modern   and 12 million sheep, it is no wonder that the landscape is predominantly pastoral.

What to look for and where to    Behind the image, the reality of this grassland heritage has changed dramatically.
find them                        There has been a revolution, enabling the number of livestock kept on farms to
                                 increase two- or three-fold during the last fifty years. But in the process, the wildlife-
Conserving and restoring
                                 rich grasslands that provide a link with the past have largely gone, along with the
wildlife-rich grasslands
                                 traditional farming methods which maintained them. These flower-rich grasslands
Managing grasslands              are places of great beauty. Now that so many have been lost, there is a much
                                 greater awareness of how precious they are.
What can be done to help?
                                 This booklet focuses on the remaining wildlife-rich grasslands of the lowlands. It
Places to visit                  covers grasslands managed as meadows and pastures; meadows are shut off from
                                 grazing animals during part of the growing season so that a hay crop can be taken,
                                 while pastures are grazed but not cut. It describes how these grasslands can be
                                 recognised and discusses how they can be conserved and restored through
                                 sympathetic management. With the goodwill of landowners and managers, and
                                 with new financial help through schemes such as Tir Gofal, the future for flower-
                                 rich meadows and pastures at last looks brighter.
                           The natural grassland heritage of Wales reaches back to the end of the last ice age, ten
                           thousand years ago. As the ice sheets retreated, forests of oak and ash spread over
                           much of the landscape. Within this blanket of woodland, grassland was mainly
GRASSLANDS,                confined to rocky outcrops and streamsides and also to glades created by storms, other
                           natural disturbances and the activities of beavers and large grazing animals.
                           Then people began clearing the woodland to create grazing for domestic animals and
MODERN                     open ground in which to sow cereal crops. Plants and herbs of woodland which were
                           adapted to grazing and to light, open habitats, became the constituents of these first
                           agricultural grasslands. These ancient grasslands provide a link with the past and with
                           the earliest human activities in Wales. This link can be seen very clearly in some of the
                           grasslands around hill forts and other ancient settlements.

                           Forest clearance progressed until grassland covered much of lowland Wales. In the
                           early part of the last century, most farms had fields of permanent pasture and hay-
                           meadows. These were managed to provide a year-round supply of food for livestock,
                           using traditional farming methods which had been employed for generations. During
                           the Second World War, new Government policies to increase home food production
                           coincided with technological advances in farm management leading to a revolution in
                           agriculture. Tractors replaced heavy horses, chemical fertilisers supplemented farmyard
                           muck, and geneticists bred more productive varieties of plants. In the next few
                           decades, many marshy grasslands were drained and flower-rich meadows vanished
                           under the plough. The newly cultivated land was turned over to arable crops or was
                           resown with new varieties of ryegrass and white clover.

                           Species-rich grassland has also disappeared because of quarrying and opencast mining,
                           urban expansion and road development, afforestation and the creation of new
                           reservoirs. A relatively new threat has come from encroachment by scrub, bracken and
                           rank grasses following removal of stock from grasslands which are difficult to graze or
                           unrewarding to the farmer. Overall, it has been estimated that across England and
                           Wales only 3% of the enclosed unimproved grassland present in the 1930s survived
                           the following 50 years.

                           Most remaining unimproved grassland in Wales is found on scattered farm holdings
                           that have escaped the 20th century drive for increased agricultural production; some
                           also persists where the terrain is too wet or too steep, or the soils too poor, for
                           agricultural improvement to be worthwhile. Some species of animals and plants are
                           now virtually restricted to these ‘islands’ in a ‘sea’ of less hospitable improved land.
                         This isolation means that the wildlife of unimproved grassland may be vulnerable to
                         local extinction if conditions become unfavourable, and there is no adjacent habitat
                         to move to or recolonise from. The marsh fritillary, a declining species of butterfly
                         which has one-third of its known British colonies in Wales, is an example of a
                         species whose future depends on a grassland habitat that is becoming increasingly
                         patchy and precarious.

WHAT TO LOOK             Unimproved meadows and pastures are likely to be rich in wild plants and animals.
                         Seventy years ago such grasslands were common, but most have been converted to
FOR AND WHERE            bright green, high productivity swards. The easiest way to recognise the remaining
                         wildlife-rich pastures is to look carefully at the sward to see whether it contains a
TO FIND THEM             variety of herbs and grasses. Hay-meadows before they are cut will be awash with
                         colour if they are unimproved, but grazed pastures will need to be examined more

                         Among the more frequent flowers of old meadows and pastures on neutral soils are
                         common knapweed, common bird’s-foot-trefoil, oxeye daisy, rough hawkbit,
                         cowslip and bulbous buttercup. Sweet vernal-grass was responsible for the sweet
                         ‘coumarin’ scent of many a farmer’s hay crop, and, along with crested dog’s-tail, is
                         still common in many meadows and pastures. The familiar but declining field
                         mushroom is also a feature of undisturbed grasslands where the soil is neutral.
                         Unimproved grasslands are particularly important for species of fungi which live on
                         dung, although these too have declined. Insects which inhabit dung, such as the
                         hornet robberfly, are disappearing, perhaps due to the dosing of stock with certain
                         persistent chemicals to treat worm infestations.

                         Such grasslands are also full of insect life. The meadow brown butterfly and six-spot
                         burnet moth are among the more conspicuous species that can be found during
                         summer. Yellow meadow ants build the large mounds which are sometimes found in
                         old pasture undisturbed by cultivation or mowing. Snipe and curlew breed in marshy
                         and rushy pastures, while skylarks and linnets make their nests in the drier
                         grasslands. Corncrakes were once a feature of traditionally managed meadows in
                         Wales, and the restoration of appropriate cutting regimes in late summer could aid
                         their return.
                         The flowers and insects which thrive in any grassland will depend on its locality and
                         aspect, its current and past management, how free-draining or wet it is, and how
                         lime-rich or acid the soil is.

                         Grasslands on free-draining lime-rich soils may contain common rock-rose, salad
                         burnet and wild thyme. Insects associated with these grasslands include several
                         species of butterfly, including silver-studded blue and brown argus. Among other
                         invertebrate groups, the spectacular great green bush-cricket occurs locally on sunny
                         slopes in south Wales.

                         Grasslands on dry acid soils are more likely to contain species such as tormentil,
                         heath bedstraw and heath milkwort. Where the grass is short, rings of fairy ring
                         champignon and red and yellow waxcaps may punctuate the pasture in the autumn.

                         In wetter conditions, grasslands dominated by purple moor-grass and rushes may
                         contain localised plant species such as meadow thistle and whorled caraway. The
                         declining marsh fritillary butterfly is particularly dependent on this habitat in Wales.

                         Unimproved lowland grasslands are now scarce and precious. In order to find out
CONSERVING AND           how many remain, where they are and what species they contain, CCW carries out
RESTORING WILDLIFE-      systematic surveys by trained field staff. A field-by-field survey of the whole of Wales
                         found that 90% of the 1.1 million ha of lowland grassland has been agriculturally
RICH GRASSLANDS          improved, nearly all of which would once have been species-rich. Much of the
                         remaining 10% had been partially modified, losing much of its wildlife value.
                         Follow-up surveys have been carried out to assess the conservation importance of
                         the best of the remaining sites.

                         With so few wildlife-rich grasslands left, the battle is on to stop any further losses.
                         The very best grasslands are notified as Sites of Special Scientific Interest (SSSI). This
                         provides a mechanism for owners and occupiers to discuss management of the land
                         with CCW. They may then enter into management agreements which provide
                         payments for looking after the grassland wildlife. Agreements may specify when
                         meadows should be cut for hay or how many cows or sheep should graze and at
                         what times of year.

                         Several of the most outstanding grasslands in Wales are managed as nature reserves.
                         These include National Nature Reserves (such as Rhos Llawr Cwrt in Ceredigion)
                         managed by CCW and partner organisations, Local Nature Reserves (such as Great
                         Orme’s Head in Conwy) managed by the local authority, and Wildlife Trust Reserves
                         (such as Pentwyn Meadows in Monmouthshire) which are often managed with the
                         help of volunteers.

                         Grasslands of high wildlife value may also be protected if they are listed as Wildlife
                         Sites or Sites of Nature Conservation Importance (SNCI) by the local Wildlife Trust.
                         Some local authorities have a laudable policy of not normally approving
                         developments which damage such sites. Another increasingly important means of
                         protection is achieved when the owners of such grasslands enter into voluntary
                         management agreements available through the Tir Gofal agri-environment scheme.

                         Tir Gofal is administered by CCW and partner organisations and is available
                         throughout Wales. Farmers are paid for undertaking to manage their land in an
                         environmentally sensitive way, maintaining wildlife-rich habitats and, if they wish,
                         establishing new habitats of wildlife value. Grassland restoration of this kind requires
                         a long-term commitment and can take several decades to reach fruition. Overall, the
                         Tir Gofal scheme offers a real opportunity for conserving and restoring lowland
                         grasslands of all types wherever they would naturally occur.

                         The future of the remaining unprotected lowland grasslands depends on the
                         goodwill of their owners and managers, some of whom may not appreciate what
                         very special places these wildlife-rich grasslands now are. Farmers who manage
                         their land sympathetically are making a vital contribution to the conservation of
                         grassland landscapes, habitats and wildlife.

MANAGING                 If grassland is not regularly grazed or mown, rank grasses and scrub will soon start to
                         take over. Both meadows and pastures need to be managed sympathetically if their
GRASSLANDS               unique wildlife is to thrive. The type and number of grazing animals, the duration
                         and season of grazing and the timing of any hay cut may all have different effects on
                         grassland animals and plants.

                         Most grassland is managed as pasture for sheep, cattle or horses. Sheep predominate
                         on the dry acidic and lime-rich pastures, but cattle and horses are better at coping
                         with the taller swards and wetter conditions of marshy grassland. Wild rabbits may
                         also have a considerable influence in the drier types of grassland.

                         All grazing animals feed selectively, preferring some plants to others. In addition to
                         grazing, natural movements of stock create small patches of bare ground. Cattle and
                         horses typically produce an uneven sward. Sheep nibble close to the ground and
                         rabbits graze the vegetation very tightly. Most grassland plants are perennial and
                         long-lived. Some spread vegetatively and do not need to set seed every year; others
                         reproduce primarily by seed and gain footholds where mole hills, rabbit scrapes or
                         hoof prints create openings for seedling establishment. A number of scarce grassland
                         fungi, such as various waxcaps and earth stars, require short-grazed turf.

                         Enclosed fields may be grazed throughout the growing season, which in low-lying
                         and coastal parts of Wales means the greater part of the year. Unless stocking levels
                         are very low, grazing prevents the sward from becoming tall, favouring low-growing
                         plants. Conversely, too heavy grazing can lead to loss of sensitive species. A patchy
                         sward, with its mixture of short and tall vegetation, will allow tall species to thrive
                         while light can still reach lower-growing plants that might otherwise be smothered.
                         Tussocky growth in lightly grazed areas provides habitat for small mammals, and
                         scattered scrub or hedgerows favour insects which require different plants for food
                         and shelter at different stages in their life-cycle. The cockchafer beetle is one
                         example: in its larval stage it feeds on grass roots but as an adult it depends on the
                         flowers and leaves of shrubs.

                         Hay-meadows have the stock removed in the early part of the summer to allow the
                         grass to grow on in preparation for cutting. This regime suits many plants, which can
                         flower and set seed before the mower moves in. This is the reason why hay-
                         meadows can be so species-rich and colourful. It is also a reason why silage-making,
                         with its early and often repeated cutting and association with fertiliser application, is
                         inappropriate for conservation management.

                         Although hay-meadows can be spectacularly rich in flowering plants, hay-cutting
                         has a sudden disastrous effect on the invertebrates that live among the tall grasses
                         and herbs, and hay-meadows are not especially rich in insect species. Old,
                         unploughed pastures, in which grazing removes the vegetation slowly leaving
                         invertebrates with time to move, often support a greater diversity of invertebrate life.
                                                   Organisations and individuals all have a role to play in conserving and restoring
                                                   biodiversity – the variety of life. After the UK Government signed the Convention on
                                                   Biological Diversity in 1992, it set out its conservation objectives in the UK

WHAT CAN BE                                        Biodiversity Action Plan. A series of habitat action plans set targets for lowland
                                                   grassland – to arrest the depletion of wildlife-rich lowland grasslands, to restore the
DONE TO HELP?                                      condition of those remnant examples suffering from inappropriate management, and
                                                   to re-establish swards of wildlife value.

                                                   When it comes to saving our unimproved meadows and pastures, individuals and
                                                   organisations can make a significant difference. For example, local authorities can
                                                   help identify and protect important grasslands through their local Biodiversity Action
                                                   Plans and by protecting grassland sites of nature conservation importance from
                                                   harmful developments. Wildlife Trusts and organisations like Plantlife establish and
                                                   manage grassland nature reserves, and you can help by joining these voluntary
                                                   bodies. If you own, manage or have influence over grassland which may be
                                                   important for wildlife, you can help by finding out what species you have in the site,
                                                   avoiding sudden changes to the management, and contacting your local Wildlife
                                                   Trust for advice. By taking an interest in wildlife-rich grasslands and spreading the
                                                   word about what beautiful and vulnerable places they are, we can all help to ensure
                                                   that flower-filled fields are there for our children to enjoy.

                                                   There are nature reserves with wildlife-rich grassland in all parts of Wales which you
PLACES TO VISIT                                    can visit and enjoy. Most of these are owned and managed by the local Wildlife
                                                   Trust; others are managed by the local authority or by CCW. Denmark Farm in
                                                   Ceredigion is managed by the Shared Earth Trust; it is devoted to environmentally
                                                   sensitive farming, and is an excellent place to see how the wildlife value of
                                                   agriculturally improved grassland can be improved through sympathetic
                                                   management. A number of farms entered into the Tir Gofal scheme are also
                                                   designated as educational sites – contact your local CCW office for details of sites
                                                   near you.

 If you’d like to order a printed copy of this booklet which includes full colour images, please go to or contact the
                                                 CCW enquiry line on 0845 1306 229.

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