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Managing for Grassland Habitats

Find links on this page related to management of different types of grassland, different management methods and managing different grassland features, including hedgerows, ponds and reducing problem species.

Magnificent Meadows has produced a brief guide about how to manage hay meadows and pasture.

The Wildlife Trusts in partnership with Plantlife have produced an advice sheet about managing grasslands for nature for landowners and farmers.

The Lowland Grassland Management Handbook published by English Nature, The Wildlife Trusts, Countryside Council for Wales and Scottish Natural Heritage in 1999 contains useful in-depth information on grassland management.

Neutral Grassland

Magnificent Meadows has produced a description note about the different types of neutral grasslands. Use the links to find out more about the types commonly encountered.

Lowland Hay Meadow and Pasture

Flower-rich hay meadows and pasture have declined greatly and there is a lot of focus on the management of this habitat. Natural England has produced an illustrated guide to managing neutral pasture for wildlife (TIN088), and a note on National Vegetational Classification: MG5 grassland (TIN147) and there is a priority habitat definition produced by Scottish Natural Heritage for lowland meadows. Gwent Wildlife Trust have produced guides on hay meadow and pasture management and Plantlife have produced a leaflet on Welsh meadows (in English and Welsh).

Case studies on lowland grassland include: Ardtole, Chestnut CottageDeer Park Farm, Francesca's MeadowHaunn Field, Monyash Farm, Peewits Valley, Wylam Community OrchardYalding Fen and Yalding Lees

Floodplain Meadows and Wet Grassland

The Floodplain Meadows Partnership have published a wide range of documents and case studies about this type of grassland including a technical management handbook.

The RSPB have produced a wet grassland practical manual for breeding waders.

Upland Hay Meadows

The hay time projects in the North Pennines AONB and Yorkshire Dales Millennium Trust have produced useful information about these meadows, which are geographically restricted to upland landscapes. In particular, there is an identification guide for upland hay meadows and a management guide. Scottish Natural Heritage have produced a priority habitat definition for upland hay meadows

Case studies on upland hay meadows include: Park Meadow

Maritime Grassland

Coastal / maritime grassland is often ver diverse with a large number of unique salt-tolerant species. Plantlife have produced a guide to managing coastal grassland in Scotland.

Case studies on maritime grassland include: Ynys Lochtyn

Coastal Grazing Marsh and Saltmarsh

A habitat definition for coastal and floodplain grazing marsh has been produced by Scottish Natural Heritage, and a guide about managing coastal grazing marsh and saltmarsh has been produced by Gwent Wildlife Trust and managing a grazing marsh mosaic by Buglife.

Acid Grassland

Magnificent Meadows has produced a description note about the different types of acid grasslands. Use the links to find out more about the types commonly encountered.

Dry Acid Grassland

Acid grassland may be a mosaic of grassland with heathland, and management guides for dry acid grassland and heath have been produced by Gwent Wildlife Trust. Scottish Natural Heritage has produced a priority habitat description for lowland dry acid grassland.

Case studies on dry acid grassland include: Monyash Farm

Purple Moor Grass and Rush Pasture (Culm Grassland or Rhôs Pasture)

Scottish Natural Heritage has produced a priority habitat definition for purple moor grass and rush pasture, and an illustrated guide to purple moor-grass and rush pasture (TIN084) has been produced by Natural England. Several management information sheets have been produced by Devon Wildlife Trust about purple moor-grass and rush pasture. 

Guides to managing marshy grassland and marshy grassland marsh fritillaries have been produced by Gwent Wildlife Trust.

Case studies that mention purple moor-grass and rush pasture include: Rhos Cwmsaeson and The Bug Farm.

Calaminarian grassland

Calaminarian grassland is a distinct type of grassland that develops on metal-rich soils. It is very restricted to conditions where soils are suitable, and is found as part of a mosaic habitat within other types of grassland. A calaminarian grassland management guide has been produced by Magnificent Meadows and Northumberland Wildlife Trust.

Ffridd

RSPB Cymru and Natural Resources Wales have produced a description of ffridd habitat.

Montane Grasslands

Scottish Natural Heritage has produced a priority habitat definition for mountain heaths and willow scrub which also includes alpine and sub-alpine grasslands.

Calcareous Grassland

Magnificent Meadows has produced a description note about the different types of calcareous grasslands. Use the links to find out more about the types commonly encountered.

Lowland Calcareous Grassland

Scottish Natural Heritage has produced a priority habitat definition for lowland calcareous grassland, and an illustrated guide to lowland chalk and limestone grassland (TIN082) has been produced by Natural England.
A guide about managing lowland calcareous grassland has been produced by Gwent Wildlife Trust and Buglife have a thorough webpage on calcareous grassland including a list of notable invertebrates and mosaic management of chalk downland.

Case studies on lowland calcareous grassland include: Chestnut Cottage

Upland Calcareous Grassland

Scottish Natural Heritage has produced a priority habitat definition for upland calcareous grassland, and an illustrated guide to upland limestone grassland (TIN083) has been produced by Natural England.

Case studies on upland calcareous grassland include: Monyash Farm

Machair Grassland

Located on the west coast of Scotland, this unique grassland habitat has been traditionally managed through crofting and small-holdings. Plantlife have produced a briefing sheet and Scottish Natural Heritage has produced a priority habitat definition for machair grassland and an in-depth leaflet on managing machair grassland.

Whin Grassland

Located in Northumbria, this unique grassland is present on the whin rocks. A management guide is available from Northumberland Wildlife Trust and a case study on management for maiden pink has been written by Magnificent Meadows.

Waxcap Grasslands

Magnificent Meadows has produced a description note about the waxcap grasslands. Plantlife has produced an identification and management fold-out guide and a management guide for lawns and pasture.  

The Pembrokeshire Fungus Recording Network has some specific papers that can be downloaded on grassland fungi, including managing lawns, cemeteries and parks for waxcaps and grazing land for waxcaps.

Aberystwyth University have compiled a waxcap website which includes a huge array of papers that can be downloaded.

Case studies on waxcap grasslands include: Deer Park Farm

Urban Grasslands

Wildflowers in urban environments not only provide a welcoming environment for people they are also important for wildlife. 

Lincolnshire Wildlife Trust have produced a short video on meadow management of community green spaces (second video). 

Defra have produced leaflets on managing gardens and urban green spaces for pollinators, and a policy and practice note on managing urban areas for pollinating insects has been produced through NERC's Living with Environmental Change research.

Small-holdings

Lincolnshire Wildlfie Trust have produced a video on managing meadows on small-holdings (third video).

Follow-up Management for Meadow Restorations

Restoring a species-rich wildflower meadow can take a long time, in excess of 15 years, and there is usually a succession of species. In some cases additional wildflower introduction may be required, especially if a two-phased introduction of wildflower seed has been undertaken. This may involve using plug plants or sowing seeds of particular species. Or, if the restoration has not been successful you may need to look at the plants that were used in the context of a soil nutrient test, or there may be other environmental conditions such as the land is prone to drought. This page contains links that may be useful to judge how your meadow restoration is progressing, whether it is succeeding and additional information you may wish to take into account.

Case studies where follow-up restoration has been undertaken include: Park Meadow

Grazing and Livestock Management

Magnificent Meadows has produced a basic guide on different types of grazing animals. The quality of the hay is of particular importance for livestock managers, and the Floodplain Meadows Partnership have produced a guidance not on how to take a hay sample to measure nutrient levels

There are numerous leaflets on grazing as the type of animal differs depending on site conditions. Beds, Cambs and Northants Wildlife Trust have produced an excellent conservation grazing guide including how grazing can be undertaken at different times of the year and stocking levels on different types of grassland.

The RSPB have produced a basic guide on grazed pasture for farmers in England.

Magnificent Meadows has a case study about fencing management units at Blakehill Nature Reserve.

The Rare Breeds Survival Trust has a large number of documents on their website through the Grazing Animal Project Archive including:

  • Developing a grazing policy checklist
  • Finding a grazier
  • Best practice guidance for a grazing animal scheme
  • Use of native or non-native grazing animals
  • Purchasing livestock
  • Reducing livestock casualties on sites with vehicular access
  • Dogs and grazing
  • Animal welfare in nature conservation grazing
  • Watering stock on sites
  • Grazing on sites with public access
  • Gathering stock on site
  • Equine handling facilities
  • Cattle handling facilities

Cotswolds seed have produced a guide to mob grazing herbal leys.

Case studies that mention livestock grazing include: Ardtole, Haunn FieldPark Meadow, Peewits ValleyRhos Cwmsaeson, Yalding Fen and Ynys Lochtyn.

Managing Grassland for Horses

Magnificent Meadows has produced leaflets on managing horse paddocks with species-rich grassland and the horse-tracking system.

The Wildlife Trusts in partnership with Plantlife have produced an advice leaflet about managing grasslands for nature for horse and pony owners.

The Kent Downs AONB have produced a good practice guide to managing land for horses

The Floodplain Meadows Partnership have produced a guidance document on how to take a hay sample to measure nutrient levels

Hay and Silage Management

Buglife have produced a general leaflet about how to manage a community meadow.

The Floodplain Meadows Partnership has produced a leaflet specifically about when to cut a water meadow in a dry year, and when to cut in a wet summer. They have also produced a guidance note on how to take a hay sample to measure nutrient levels

The RSPB has produced a leaflet for farmers in England on managing hay and silage fields for birds.

PONT have a hay exchange website putting people in touch that have hay with those that would like hay.

Ulster Wildlife Trust has produced a video showing the making of a hay ruck.

Case studies that mention hay making include: Chestnut Cottage, Peewits Valley and Yalding Lees

Topographical features (earth mounds) for wildlife

Wildlife thrives in a structually diverse habitat with lumps and bumps creating thermal micro-climates and shelter. This is particulalry true for invertebrates where bees, butterflies, other invertebrates and reptiles want banks for basking. Magnificent Meadows has written a guidance note on how to create an earth mound for wildlife.

Burning or Swaling Management

Burning grassland is usually only suitable on purple moor-grass and rush pasture or acid grassland where it is a mosaic with heathland. However, care still should be taken as fires even on acid grasslands may be damaging in certain circumstances, especially if there is underlying peat soil. Fire is rarely used on other grasslands if at all and can be damaging.

Scrub

Scrub can become dominant on under-managed grassland and may need management. However, scrub is also a wildlife habitat and helps to diversity pasture. There are a number of publications that provide more information on scrub management and control:

Case studies that mention scrub management include: Ardtole, Penbryn and Rhos Cwmsaeson

Hedgerows

Hedges are an important feature of the countryside and also need management along with the fields they surround. Hedgelink is a useful place to find lots of information in addition of the publications below:

Bracken

Bracken is a habitat within grasslands, but can become invasive and smother underlying wildflowers and grasses. Management may be required and there are a few publications that provide advice:

Case studies that mention bracken control include: Haunn Field, Mwnt and Ynys Lochtyn

Rushes

Rushes, particularly soft rush and hard rush, can become problems in wet grassland and require management:

Managing problem species

Native and non-native plants can take over and become problems in grassland. The guidance below provides some methods of controlling these species:

Ditches

Many grasslands have ditches alongside them which may also require management:

Ponds

Ponds are a feature in many grasslands and greatly increase the habitats for wildlife. The Freshwater Habitats Trust have lots of information on their website.

Water Management Structures on Grassland

Water management is important on grasslands that lie in floodplains. It concerns drainage and the infrastructure either to keep water on the grassland or allow the water to flow off the land:

Timescales for recovery of existing lowland grassland and lowland heathland

Milestones to Recovery Project

The Milestones to Recovery Project, undertaken by Plantlife and Natural England in 2016, aimed to capture the evidence from published literature, unpublished practical experiences and expert experience of site management to build up a simple picture of habitat recovery under a range of management interventions or combination of practices. The rate of recovery on each site is determined by the current condition, time since the commencement of the intervention, the relationship between management practices, particularly different combinations of interventions, and adverse factors that may influence condition. 

The objectives of the project were to prepare guidance for land managers and advisers to help them:

  • understand where the site sits in terms of its position on a recovery trajectory;
  • determine the likely timescales required to achieve favourable condition;
  • decide on the most effective management intervention.

The resulting information has been summarised into two advisory notes on dry types of lowland grassland and lowland heathland.

The focus of this project is on plant communities and changes to these communities following management.  It fully recognises that fauna are dependent upon these plant communities and the range of niches provided.  However, in terms of this project, it has not been possible to include any details of the effects of management on fauna.