nature's tapestry

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  • NATURESTAPESTRYThe story of Englands grasslandsand why not all grass is green.

    Natures Tapestry 28pp:Layout 1 13/7/11 16:40 Page 1

  • 2 Natures Tapestry - The Grasslands Trust

    The Grasslands TrustThe Grasslands Trust is a UK RegisteredCharity (No. 1097893) and CompanyLimited by Guarantee founded in 2002 in order to reverse the decline of our wildlife-rich grasslands.

    AcknowledgementsThanks to everyone who contributed to the production of this report, especially the authors of the case studies, both in thereport and on the accompanying webpage.Thanks to Lucy Cooper, Deborah Alexanderand everyone else at The Grasslands Trustfor helping produce the report. Thanksalso to Clare Pinches and AndrewThompson at Natural England who helpedto develop the report. The production ofthis report was financially supported by The European Commission DGEnvironment; and Natural England.

    Author: Miles King

    Editor: Andrew Branson, British Wildlife Publishing

    Design: Greenhouse Graphics


    3 Executive SummaryExecutive Summary and recommendations

    4 Introduction

    5 Chapter One What are wildlife-rich grasslands

    10 Chapter Two The values of wildlife-rich grasslands

    13 Chapter Three What is happening to Englands grasslands

    21 Chapter Four What factors are driving change on grasslands

    26 Conclusions

    27 The Grasslands Trust

    The following organisations endorse this report:

    The production of this report is supported by the European Forum on NatureConservation and Pastoralism through its DG Environment part-funded 2011work programme. The views in this report do not necessarily reflect the viewsof the European Commission.

    The RSPB believes that appropriate management of Englands semi-natural grasslands is apriority, given their importance for biodiversity and key ecosystem services. Natures Tapestryeffectively highlights the value of these grasslands and the threats they face - it is an importantreport on a vital subject.

    Gareth Morgan, Head of Countryside and Species Conservation (Policy).

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  • Natures Tapestry - Executive Summary 3

    Executive SummarySemi-natural grasslands have evolvedthrough human activity over the past 6,000years: there are practically no naturalgrasslands in England. There are now veryfew semi-natural grasslands left in England:modern agriculture has led to theirdestruction over the past 60 years. There isan important resource of grasslands thathave been partly modified by modernagriculture, but which still retain significantvalue. This resource is undervalued bysociety and provides important publicgoods.

    As well as being rich in wildlife, landscapecharacter and archaeology, semi-naturalgrasslands provide a wide range ofenvironmental goods and services: carbonstorage, flood prevention, water purification,crop pollination, tourism, health, well-beingand inspiration. Intensively managedagricultural grasslands provide one service:cheap food. There is a danger that taking apurely economic approach to valuing semi-natural grasslands runs the risk of theintangible values being ignored.

    Semi-natural grasslands depend onsympathetic management, such as low-intensity grazing by livestock or horses, ormowing for hay. The costs of making achange from intensive to sympatheticmanagement can be off-putting forlandowners, because the current agriculturalsubsidy system places a value only on

    efficient food production, not on themultitude of other public goods semi-naturalgrasslands provide.

    Private landowners, conservation charities,local authorities and government agencies allwork together to protect and manage semi-natural grasslands. There are some excellentlocal and national grasslands projects makinggood progress, but semi-natural grasslandsare still very vulnerable to the twin pressuresof intensification and neglect. Grasslands inSSSIs are better protected than they were,but those outside SSSIs are very vulnerable.Funding from agri-environment schemeshelps but entry level funding is poorlytargeted. Most CAP funding is through theSingle Payment Scheme. The rules governingthis scheme are unhelpful for semi-naturalgrasslands and fail to recognise theirenvironmental and heritage value, andeconomic handicaps. The regulations thatare supposed to protect semi-naturalgrasslands from intensive agriculture arelargely ineffective.

    Development pressures still threatengrasslands, and changes to planning rulescould increase these threats. Grasslands arevaluable for local communities and TheGrasslands Trust is developing CommunityGrasslands to encourage this. Dog-walkersand horse-keepers, in particular, use semi-natural grasslands. Their impact can causedamage, but need not do so.

    Key recommendations Implement in full the recommendations

    in Making Space for Nature.

    Reform the Common AgriculturalPolicy in the long term so that CAPpayments are made for the provisionof environmental public goods andthe protection of the culturallandscape, and targeted to supportlow-intensity agriculture.

    Short-term reform of the CAP shouldfocus on improving the rules governingSingle Payment, reform the permanentpasture rules, amend the eligibilitycriteria, improve the GAEC rules toprevent damage to semi-naturalgrasslands, and ensure they are managedsympathetically. A Premium should beintroduced for farmers who commit tomaintain their semi-natural grasslands.

    Improve targeting of agri-environmentscheme funding to ensure it is used toprotect and ensure management ofsemi-natural grasslands.

    Notify as SSSIs all surviving significantsemi-natural grasslands.

    Revise the EIA (Agriculture) Regulationsso they become an effective tool forprotecting semi-natural grasslands.

    Prepare a comprehensive GrasslandsInventory, based on Natural EnglandsLowland Grassland Inventory.

    Ensure the new planning systemprotects existing semi-natural grasslandsfrom development, and supportsrestoration and creation of newgrasslands in new developments.

    Since the arrivalof neolithicfarming culture,6,000 years ago,grasslands havedominated theEnglish landscape

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  • Grasslands are the foundation of the Englishlandscape. They may not hold the mystery ofour ancient woodlands but England is still atheart a green and pleasant land. It isEnglands hedged tapestry of meadows andpastures that have so often drawn peopleback - the meadowsweet, and haycock dryof Edward Thomas, and Brownings fields ofbuttercups - Far brighter than this gaudymelon-flower.

    The story of Englands grasslands is one that stretches back across millennia, and has for much of that time been an evolvingpartnership between our pastoral ancestorsand the ebb and flow of the wildlife that has lived among them. Change has alwaysbeen a part of the grassland cycle, but since the Second World War the pace ofchange has been such that many of thetraditional patterns of land-use have almost disappeared, along with the wildlife communities that developedalongside them.

    For 6,000 years the English landscape was a palimpsest layers of previous land-use,wildlife and human activity had developedone upon another, with traces of theprevious epoch still remaining andinfluencing the next. In the past 70 years,the palimpsest has been almost entirelyerased, leaving only those features that havesurvived below the deepest plough furrow,on the steepest slope, on the very poorestsoils, or the wettest marsh.

    Those semi-natural grasslands that survivenot only hold some of our richest wildlife,but are an irreplaceable link tounderstanding our long relationship with the land.

    4 Natures Tapestry - Introduction

    Chalk downland like this has been a part of our English landscape for centuries.


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  • Grass is everywhere from your lawn to thelocal park, to vast swathes of the opencountryside. Just over 5 million hectares ofEnglands farmland is covered in grasslandsof one kind or another. Thats over half theagricultural land in England. This figure doesnot even include all the lawns, parks, golfcourses and all the other places where grassgrows. Even arable land is dominated by thespecial group of grasses that humans havedomesticated wheat, barley, rye andmaize. But these rely on annual cultivationand are not dealt with in this report.

    All grasses, and all grasslands, are not thesame though. The bright green fields thatclothe the modern English countryside are a far cry from the wildlife-filled meadows,commons and downlands of the past.Almost all of Englands grasslands have beenheavily modified by agriculture. Two-thirdsare entirely improved, dominated by one ortwo types of grass grown with artificialfertilisers and herbicides. About a third aresemi-improved1, and while dominated bygrasses, these still have a few common wildflowers such as buttercups and daisies.

    Less than 100,000ha or just 3% of Englandslowland grasslands are still rich in wildlife,archaeology and history.

    OriginsThe origins of Englands semi-naturalgrasslands2 go back thousands of years.Almost all of the plants and animals thatinhabit these grasslands colonised Britainafter the last ice age, about 10,000 yearsago. As the glaciers retreated, grasslandsreplaced them. These were, in turn, replacedby a primeval wood the Wildwood, whichflourished for 4,000 years, occupied byMesolithic hunter-gatherers. During that

    time, grassland wildlife would have survivedin naturally open spaces within theWildwood, possibly kept open by naturalevents, such as fires and floods, as well as byherds of native herbivores (e.g. auroch, elk,bison, moose, wild boar, beaver, red deer),most of whic